Calming Your Hunting Companion
A common problem we help many of our clients with is calming their easily overexcited, high energy hunting dogs. It is possible to have a calm, well mannered house companion and a reliable dog in the field. It begins with reinforcing appropriate behavior.
Dog's feed off of our energy, and love affection. If a dog is hyper and receives affection, they associate hyperactivity with affection, and become hyper to obtain affection. If a dog receives affection when they are calm, which is how most people want their dogs to act, they will be in that state of mind more often to obtain affection.
Exercise is a large part of a calm dog. Dogs genetically closest resemble wolves. In the wild, a wolf will hunt, (mental and physical exercise) eat, sleep, play and repeat. If a dog gets adequate exercise, food and water, they will have nothing left to do but rest and relax.
A walk with your dog by your side, you slightly in front, at least 30 minutes once a day, is a great place to start. Letting your dog run around in a big back yard is not much more than running inside a big cage. Dog's can get frustrated watching or chasing what the dog sees as rivals, threats, or prey outside the fence they can’t get to. The best way to exercise a dog for someone who can’t seem to find the time is to purchase a treadmill. Most dogs can be taught to run on a treadmill with minimal effort and maximum benefits.
To teach them to run on the treadmill, first put a lead on the dog (the best lead to use is one that will fit right behind their ears, we use Delmar Smith’s wonder lead or a wildrose lead), then help the dog to stand on the treadmill with no motion. It is very important to lead the dog through this exercise. Stand on the treadmill with them, turn it on, slowly at first. Let the dog get used to the idea of the ground moving. Expect them to struggle a bit. Do not physically hold the dog, but hold the lead. It is best not to keep constant pressure on the lead, when a dog feels tension, their natural reaction is to pull against it. It’s best to give the lead a “tug” forward. If the dog starts moving back, “tug” them forward again. Once they start walking, turn the speed up a bit to get the dog into their natural gait. As soon as they are comfortable with this move off of the treadmill.
This exercise is very mentally stimulating and takes concentration from the dog. When moving off of the treadmill, chances are, the dog will loose his concentration, his step, and try to move off the treadmill as well. When this happens, keep them going on the treadmill. “Tug” them back into place until they get back into a comfortable gait. If the dog does jump off, keep the treadmill going and lead them back on as quickly as possible.
Try to build on success and not failure. The more a dog jumps off a treadmill the more they condition themselves to jump off and fail. We want them to stay on the treadmill, to build on success, and condition themselves to stay on the treadmill. Stand next to them until the dog is confident and will not try to jump off. Then slowly move away, but in one step increments. Again, if the dog jumps off they are failing, and we want success. We do not move too far away tempting them to jump off. Stay right with them for a few sessions if they need it, and when the dog is confident, slowly move away. Our first session is usually about 10 minutes. We want to stop the treadmill on our terms, not our dogs. If they jump off and we stop the exercise, the dog has made the decision to stop. If this happens, put the dog back on the treadmill until they're comfortable again, then shut it off. This way it is you, the leader, that said when it is time to stop, and the dog ends on a successful, positive note.
The treadmill is a great pack leadership exercise. The threadmill provides unstable ground, and dogs do not like unstable ground. Lead the dog through this uncomfortable situation, and gain their trust and respect. This will make all training easier for you and your dog.
When we have a mentally unstable dog come into our kennel, the first thing we do is put them on a treadmill. This gives them the exercise they need to be able to concentrate on training, and helps them see us as a pack leader from the very beginning.
After the dog has had some exercise teach them how to stay on their dog bed. This is an ideal time for this exercise, because the dog has had their physical and mental exercise and it is naturally time to rest. Lead them on to their bed and instruct them to stay. Stand there for a few seconds and start slowly walking away. Be sure to feel calm and confident in their ability to stay on the bed. Expect the dog to leave the bed, and they surely will fill that expectation. If they do try to follow, walk into them, and back onto the bed. If they try to go around, block them, again cornering them get back onto the bed. This must be the law of nature to the dog. Once placed on the dog bed they must stay until released, they learn that this is the way the world works, no exceptions. If this rule is set in stone, the dog will never question its validity. We also use the sound “pssht”. This helps to associate your motions and corrections with a sound. After the dog has familiarized themselves with this exercise, if they decide to come off the bed before you release them, you can look in their direction, make the noise, and they will sit back down on the bed. Dogs can only think about one thing at a time. When they start to come off of the bed, they are thinking of a way off the bed. When they here that noise, it puts their attention back onto you. This is the point where you can redirect their attention to the bed.
Throughout these exercises we are letting the dog know that we are higher on the totem pole than they are. This is a very calming reality for your dog. Once they realize that they don't have to make the decisions of when it's time to go for a walk or when it's time to play etc., they will be more at ease and comfortable. Daily dominance exercises around the house will help to keep your dog calm and balanced. Through physical and mental exercise, dominance, and the daily care of your dog, you will begin to see immediate results in their behavior.
For more information on Willow Creek training methods, visit www.willowcreekkennels.net.
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