Having wild, pent-up dogs could be a really good time to work on some important skills that’ll come in handy now AND later. So, think of it as a blessing in disguise! lol
Seriously? You probably think I’m crazy, reading my quote. (and, I’m not sayin you’re wrong!) 😉
The Dogs: Can learn how to have better impulse control. They can learn how to allow their person to calm them when they’re excited or tense. They can learn that sometimes thinking, mindful action eases the crazies better than spinning, jumping and racing.
The People: Can develop their ability to read their dog…to sense their dog’s mental, emotional and physical state of being in any moment. They can practice being calm, centered, relaxed and clear. They can learn how to help calm and relax their dogs in different environments.
Let’s have some F-U-N!!
Some backstory assumptions…aka Kathy’s worldview:
- Dogs need to mature into adults who understand that they must fulfill certain social and cultural obligations in order to get what they want from life. Four on the floor = dinner. Wait at the gate until invited in = enjoyable work. That’s simple.
- Any being (dog or handler) who is tense, distracted or manic cannot possibly think, learn, effectively teach or be their best.
- Handlers have a strong influence on their dogs thru their body language, emotional state and intention.
Here are 4 really useful things you can work on when it’s icky bad outside and your dogs are driving you crazy:
#1. Teach your dogs to pay close attention to you and to be responsible partners.
I’m talking about having a dog that is fully aware of their part of the partnership, and knows to look to you for information by watching your body language…reading your intention…and feeling your feelings. They’re really good at all of that. We just have to expect them to be natural and inquisitive.
For example: you can teach your dog to sit or lie down and wait until you say it’s OK to approach their dinner bowl…WITHOUT SAYING A WORD.
Then, teach them how to do the same at doors, gates, crates, vehicles…everywhere.
And, teach your dog to ‘take turns’..for anything and everything. Like getting a treat. Or retrieving a ball. Or going thru the gate for a run with the pack…ONE DOG AT A TIME. In a different order, at your random choice.
Make it fun! Use clear intention and body language.
#2. Develop your skill at REALLY reading your dog.
This will be sooooooo useful as you train and handle your dog…whether it’s sheep herding, agility or anything else. I’m most familiar with sheep herding, but use your imagination to apply my comments to your own activity.
You want to know when your dog is tense, stressed, over-energized or manic. So, pay close attention.
What is your dog’s body posture? Head position? Facial expression? Are the muscles tense? Quivering, even? Or supple and smooth? Is your dog spinning around in circles or manically jumping? What about breathing: shallow and quick? anxious panting? Or smooth, even and slow? Eyes fixed and staring or wide and wild? Or softly and keenly taking in the environment? Is your dog eagerly and softly awaiting your next cue, or are nails digging into the ground in readiness to take off like a maniac?
Your goal is to read your dog in an instant and take action to calm and relax your dog BEFORE you do any training…in other words, prepare your dog to partner with you in a useful way.
Your partner should have the type of intensity that is eager, focused calm and confident. Not the kind of intensity that comes from being tensely over-stimulated and easily builds into a kind of frenzy.
Learn to objectively observe your dog in different situations and environments and if you don’t have a dog that is able to partner with you…STOP…and work on that first, before you proceed.
#3. Be a Zen Master: be able to BE a you that is calm, centered, confident and focused.
Because your dog is so keenly tapping into you…and what you are communicating…teaching yourself to objectively observe your own body, your focus and your level of calmness becomes a key step to your dog being his best…being able to do the job you are asking him to do.
So: what are YOUR muscles like? Scan your body, looking for tension…then relax those areas. What is your breathing like? Long, deep breaths can help to calm you as you let go of muscle tension and a closed posture. Check your emotions? Are you anxious or stressed? Take a few moments to allow your emotions to get back into balance…to calm and focused.
Listen to your voice (or your whistle). Are you speaking in a high pitch, rapid fire and over-animated? Is your own intensity raising to a fever pitch?
First, just notice…then breath as you observe yourself…then begin to relax and calm. Smile. Get a drink of water. Look around and find something that makes you happy and let that feeling fill your body. Hint: it’s probably your dog.
#4. The Calming Power of Touch
Go ahead and touch your dog whenever either of you are feeling tense. Use long, smooth strokes under the chin and down the chest, or down the back, or along the sides. Breathe in rhythm to your stroking…hum or tone if that helps you to breath more fluidly. Walk a bit with your dog to release some of that tension. Maybe play a little. Then touch some more. Long and smooth, solidy connecting with your dog. Feel your feet in touch with the ground…let your energy settle down into your feet then right out into the ground. Maybe even sit there on the ground or floor with your dog, just breathing and enjoying one another’s company.
There…now you and your dog are ready to try again. Isn’t that better?