So much of training and living with dogs is about doing, doing, doing, action, action, action.
Sometimes it’s important to take time, to be, and allow the dog process the environment.
Give them time:
The brain errs on the side of caution and tells the body to expect danger, as a default setting. That means we have to do lots of work to give the brain and body time and relief to gather information to facilitate a change in attitude.
The time to reset the brain is during a puppy’s first few months of life, and then to continue this in a structured manner over puppy’s first year. But we need to get that first few months right. Dogs who don’t cope with this well don’t need to have been abused or have had particularly bad experiences in early life. All it takes, is lack of exposure, lack of time to information gather.
We don’t get this behaviour developmental stage back again – we get one go, so we need to get it right.
Information Gathering for Puppies
This is especially important for puppies, who are just learning about the world. And often explains why puppies and young dogs will suddenly plant themselves in the middle of a walk, unwilling to move on.
In a Puppy1 class Minnie takes some time to engage with a ballpit puzzle, and Ellie prefers to sit back and watch the goings-on.
Providing puppies (and all dogs) with time to choose how they wish to respond, helps to reduce stress and helps to build confidence.
Information Gathering for Dogs
In this clip Simon, on one of his first trips to AniEd a couple years ago, before he was rehomed, is out for a walk in a busy business park.
Simon, given his rough background, can be a little overwhelmed in some situations. This is our first walk together – that’s why he’s panting plus we had just had some ball fun inside too.
We came across a man mowing a lawn in behind a fence and another man with a forklift working. We moved across the road so that we were about 15-20m away from the action. As soon as he spotted this activity he stopped and I made sure to keep the leash loose. We just waited while he processed the noise and activity.
Notice his rapid head movements as he watches the scene and note his mouth becoming tighter at times as he concentrates on the activity. Listen for his big sigh as he gathers as much information about something that might cause him a little concern.
As soon as he’s ready to move on I mark (YES!) and reward him. That it looks calm and a bit boring (let’s be honest!!) is good – it means that he could relax enough so that he could just watch the goings-on without experiencing too much concern.
Let your dog take it in…
When your dog encounters something that interests them, especially if it causes them to be excited, to be scared or spooked, causes them to lunge, pull, whine or bark, give your dog some time to process that trigger.
If your dog is already reacting like this first move far enough away that your dog is able to give some attention to you and so that they don’t react that way anymore.
But, when you encounter something that you think might be of interest to your dog give you and your dog plenty of space from it.
Keep the leash loose and allow your dog to process any information that he can from what he is seeing, hearing and smelling.
Things won’t seem as scary or interesting to your dog if they have had some time to find out a little more about it.
This is really important for puppies, who are learning about the world, and for dogs who are worried or ‘reactive’ on leash.
It’s not always about “training”
You don’t need to jump in there with treats or cues straight away. Take the time. Don’t encourage, don’t nag, indeed, you don’t need to do a whole lot.
If your dog can’t information gather, you’re too close, you’ve stayed too long, the trigger is too intense. Distance is your friend, and there’s nothing wrong with packing it in and trying again another day.
Things to try, and not to try:
- keep your distance
- give your dog time
- if you notice your dog stiffening, become more tense, or having difficulty moving away – help them. Move away excitedly, call to them, keep it jolly. Try not to put too much pressure on the leash as this tends to escalate things. If needed, move them along with brief, gentle pressure, and then use your jolliness to keep them moving with you.
- never drag a puppy who has stopped
- don’t attempt to lure a dog toward something he is unsure of or scared of. Don’t even encourage them to approach – give them time to choose.
- You don’t need to understand their hesitation – just listen to your dog!
- after some time information gathering, get ’em outta there, moving in the other direction
- too much exercise for puppies and growing dogs is damaging – review your exercise regime, and think of outings more for exposure to the world, rather than physical exertion
- don’t make puppy’s world too big too soon.
While puppy is on vaccination hold, bring them in your arms to new places on foot and in the car. Remember, they have little choice when in your arms so don’t expose them to new things, people or animals when restrained.
When they start going for walks, expand their world a few metres each day, starting at the front of your house or garden on the first day, then a couple of houses down the next day and so on. Rather than marching, try playing with toys, doing sniffing searches for them, and letting them range on lead (safely).
If you have difficulty moving a reluctant dog or puppy, give them some time (might take several minutes) and then encourage them to follow you back the way you came. You can move in a big arc to go in your intended direction too.
Learn to ‘listen’:
Teach a hand targeting behaviour, to encourage movement in a non-confrontational and low-pressure manner:
Make it fun!