Chillaxing…Learning to Settle in the Real World

I’ve just had three days at The BFA Flyball Championships. Some very exciting racing and a real adrenaline rush for both dogs and handlers. As I was only racing one dog each day, I had plenty of time to just hang about near my van and relax, so I took the opportunity to work with Mint on getting her to just relax, settle down and chill at the side of me in this busy environment. This got me thinking about teaching our dogs to chillax and just how important it is.

As you can see, Mint relaxed so much, that she actually fell asleep.

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Not only does it do us good to be able to just settle and relax in an environment, it does our dogs good as well. Teaching them to settle and relax, also means that we can relax.  Just imagine how relaxing it would be to take your dog to a dog friendly pub, and have then just settle down beside you whilst you have a meal and a drink (or two!).

Having a dog that doesn’t switch off can be very tiring and frustrating for the owner, but just imagine what it must be like for the dog to be constantly on the go and to be unable to relax? That’s not good for the dog’s health and welfare and often leads to the owners getting frustrated with a dog that won’t calm down and may mean that the dog gets left at home whilst the owners go for days and evenings out.

So, how do we teach our dogs to relax and settle? A lot does depend on your dog’s personality; you may need to start off training a settle when your dog is already a bit tired or you may be able to train this when the dog is  a bit fresher.  You can start this off at home or when you are out on a walk. You will need something relaxing for you to do (read a book, check your Facebook, sit and watch the World go by, watch a TV documentary, practice your meditation, anything that will keep you calm and relaxed). If you are off out and about, you will probably need to take something to sit on, unless you know there  is a seat in that location.

This is how I did it with Mint at the weekend.  sat myself down in my chair with Mint on the lead and a good book and a coffee. Mint was on lead and was allowed to explore the environment. I sat back, took a few deep breathes and tuned myself out from the noise of the flyball going on in the next field. I read my book (The Fitz and The Fool series by Robin Hobb..well worth a read) and just kept my eye on Mint. After a while, she stopped pestering me and just lay down. That was the time that I very quietly, calmly and slowly praised her ‘Goooddddd giirrrllll’, just enough for her to hear me but not enough to excite her into getting back up again. We continued in this manner for a good 40 minutes or more. You can see from the picture above, that she eventually chilled enough to just go to sleep. This is a huge deal for her as she is such an environmentally aware dog and such a stress head at times, which is why I am so keen to teach her to relax and switch off in novel environments.

Here is another picture of Mint settling and relaxing in a training class environment. Another big deal for her as there were other dogs and people present. 14311251_1179757615430107_442914007508741822_o

Although she hasn’t gone to sleep in this image, you can see from her eyes that she is relaxing and thinking about going to sleep and you can see that her body is relaxed. Her ears tell you that she is still aware of the other dogs and people, but not enough to worry her.

I must admit, it was lovely to just sit and chill with her and I found that I was de-stressing as well (living with a dog like Mint can be very stressful). The biggest benefit for me, was that when Mint was popped back into her crate in the van, she actually laid down quietly (even though the van doors were still wide open and we had vehicles, people and dogs as our close neighbours). This is huge as she’s usually barking at everything around her and sometimes spinning in her crate.

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Maybe not the best quality photo, but a milestone for this girlie.

Other ways you can use to encourage your dog to settle at your feet (or near you) is to tether a stuffed Kong to your chair. This prevents the dog from just picking the Kong up and moving off with it and keeps them occupied close to you. I often suggest this for people to use in training classes as it keeps their dog occupied whilst others are being worked. See my Facebook page Get Stuffed for some ideas of frozen Kong recipes.

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Proactive not Passive

I love  clicker training. I love the way the dog (or other animal) is a willing participant in the learning process. I love how fast the learning process can be and how much fun can be had.

Unfortunately, some people dismiss clicker training because they think we are just a bunch of hippies that try to ignore bad behaviour and just passively wait for the dog to offer good behavior before we reward. Whilst I am sure that some trainers attempt to use this  ineffective approach, a good trainer (regardless of what tools they prefer to use), will adopt a proactive approach to solving unwanted behaviour (so-called bad behaviour).

So how do we clicker trainers and other positive trainers deal with unwanted behaviour? Well management is high on our agenda and ignoring behaviour should be fairly low down: depending of course, on what the unwanted behaviour is. If my dog ignores a sit cue, I’m probably going to be fairly chilled about it all and not stress. If it ignores a recall cue, I may get a bit worried if the dog is clearing off to chase rabbits, other dogs or just going over to bug other people and dogs…..that one would mean that I’d have to go and put some work in on proofing my recall around distractions and making sure that I pay the dog a decent wage for ignoring those distractions and heading back to me. Management would involve a long line clipped onto a harness.

So what if my dog is jumping up people. Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait until the dog decides it is going to do something else? Absolutely not! everytime the dog jumps up someone, it is getting rewarded, so the behaviour is going to increase and not go away by being ignored. What I need to do, is reward the dog for doing something else; something that it can’t do at the same time as jumping up. Sit is an excellent one to pick (as you can’t jump up whilst you are sat) as is keeping four paws on the floor. So again we’d manage the situation by keeping the dog on a lead and then rewarding the dog for either sitting or keeping its feet on the floor when people are about, and then as people approach and then when people come over and say hello to the dog.

What about a dog showing aggression? Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait for the dog to do something else? No! This needs addressing. Again management will come in to protect whatever the dog’s target is; so lead, muzzle (once the dog has been trained to accept one) and then work is needed on treating the emotional component of the aggression (if it is fear based), on treating the pain (if the aggression is medically related) and then desensitising the dog to its triggers. How to deal with this, would need several blog posts, but do look out for our TRUST programme. Also see our blog post on Muzzle types to ensure that you choose the correct type.

What about barking? Am I going to ignore that? Generally, no I won’t, although it does depend on where and when it occurs. I probably won’t try to stop my dogs barking when they first go on the beach for a run, but I will stop them barking in the house, when someone comes to the door and barking at me to get me to throw a toy. barking does tend to be a rewarding thing to do (makes the dog feel good inside), so ignoring it isn’t really going to make it go away. We need to be proactive and teach the dogs what quiet means.

Dogs can’t bark and sniff (bit like we can’t talk and sniff…try it!), so if your dog starts barking, pop a tasty treat on their nose, they will sniff (and go quiet), then say quiet, count to 5 and then reward. You have just rewarded your dog for 5 seconds of being quiet.  You can build on this and gradually increase the duration of the quiet behaviour.

For dogs that bark when people come to the door, then I really like Kikopup’s approach of using a positive interrupter to interrupt the barking so that you can then reward the quiet behaviour. Works even if you have multiple dogs.

For dogs that are getting over excited and barking because they want to play with that toy now! I’d be wanting to work on their self-control (impulse control). I play a series of games to help to teach the dog to stay calm and focused, no matter how exciting the game or the environment. These games now form part of my successful EPIC self control and focus course

We’ll have  a look at other so-called problem behaviours in another post in the future. Have a think about the behaviours that your dog does that are maybe not appropriate and see if you can think of a proactive approach to teaching your dog to do something else instead.

If you’d like to know more about why dogs bark and the other ways in which dogs communicate, then join us on our online Canine Communication course

 

 

 

Born to be Wild or Genetically Driven?

So you’ve got a springer or cocker and all you see is it running into the distance with its nose down. Or your retriever meets you at the door with your slippers in its mouth. Welcome to the World governed by genetics; your dog is just doing what it was bred to do.

Spaniels are bred to hunt and flush game by running about in cover and following the scent of the birds and flushing them out. It is hard-wired into spaniels, especially the working bred ones. Ideally, they shouldn’t work far from you, but many owners don’t know how to channel the dog’s desire to hunt and they can end up with spaniels that end up several fields away!

Retrievers are bred to fetch shot game back; they have an inbuilt desire (read need) to bring you a ‘pheasant’ when they see you. They don’t care whether that pheasant is actually your slippers or a pair of knickers; they are genetically programmed to do this.

Pointers and setters are bred to range long distances and to work with little direction from their handler. They have been bred to be independent breeds; which can make them difficult to recall (note I say difficult, not impossible). Again, this is down to their genetic make-up.

When owning a gundog breed, it is important to consider what job the breed was originally bred to do as they will have a strong desire, a need to carry out that behaviour to fulfil their inner child (their emotional needs) and if allowed to go ‘self-employed’ these breeds will respond to these needs and go off hunting or looking for a pheasant to bring you.

So how can we control these instincts? Note I say control rather than stop. It is almost impossible to stop pre-programmed behaviour, but we can channel it so that the dog works with us rather than against us.

Nosework games such as tossing treats or hiding a toy for the spaniel to hunt out will enrich their lives and teach them to stay close as well as helping with recall and check-ins. Teaching a stop to whistle (or verbal cue) can help when they are triggered to chase (flush) something. The more interaction between you and the dog on a walk, the more likely the dog is to stay close by and keep an eye on you. Building a desire to retrieve whilst they are young can help a lot as it gives you another tool to use to interact with/train your dog with (but exclusively using a ball chucker to exercise your dog in a walk is likely to cause other issues). So I will use a ball to reward a stop or a fast recall as my springer is ball mad…..if I don’t interact with her, she would be fields away busy hunting as that is what her brain is telling her to do.

Retrievers also like retrieve games and nosework games but are generally more likely to want to stay near you. To satisfy that need to bring you a pheasant, give them something to carry. If you don;t want them fetching you your slippers, TV remote or knickers; then teach them to fetch a specific toy that they can then greet you with. Fetching you something makes them feel good as well as satisfying that internal need, so we need to make sure that what they fetch is something that we don’t mind them bringing to us or our guests.

Recalls need to have meaningful rewards and this doesn’t just mean tasty treats, it means duration of reward and its relevance to the dog at that time. So when the dog comes back when called, don’t just give it one large treat as the chances are that will teach the dog to come back, snatch a treat and then run off again. You are better to divide that treat into 10 smaller one and deliver them one after the other whilst walking backwards. The movement increases the dog’s engagement with you and the duration of the reward reinforces ‘hanging about’ with you rather than the grab and run approach that one treat can encourage.

Other things that I will do out on walks are:

  • Rewarding check ins
  • Multiple recalls
  • Stops either going away from me or towards me
  • Recall and stay near me until released to run and hunt again
  • Directional work (sending the dog left right and back)
  • Loose lead walking
  • Short stays either next to me or whilst I walk away and recall
  • Various retrieve games
  • Various search games
  • Impulse control games

 

Join us for our Goody Goody Gundog workshops for ideas to challenge your gundog.
You may also find our E.P.I.C. Self Control and Focus workshops useful. You can study online here 

Other posts you may find helpful
Fabulous Focus

When the Wild Child Rears Its Ugly Head