How can aroused play and calm behaviors necessarily go together? The two are not mutually exclusive and are often a focus of my attention. Especially when one deals with an amped up adolescent dog, who once started, continues to escalate exceedingly quickly. In my role of Dog Behavior Consultant I often work with these agitated adolescents, who accelerate with great alacrity into jumpy grabby leaping nipping behavior. “We just don`t know what to do”, is often heard in initial contact with at wits end owners.
Well meaning efforts to wear out the wonder energizers can actually contribute to undesired behaviors. Regarding the latter, during a consult, questions are asked regarding play style with the canine offender. Often, I discover a pattern with Pooch of never ending fetch: throw after throw after throw after throw, in attempt to tire the grabby nipping leaping mess. So. Don`t they need to get tired?
Yes, exercise is undeniably beneficial, but playing calmly does pay off. Altering play style to teach Pooch calm behavior can be key to ending the undesireable behavior. Overly aroused play,while not overtly aggressive, can result in nips that break the skin. We speak of dogs being over stress threshold, at a state of arousal where they are no longer cognitve thinking beings, just reacting.
The latter is the pattern we want to change. Visualize if you will, that access to the toy is only ever gained through sitting (a calming behavior) before the next toss. Now Pooch has a moment to think, respond, chill out and amp down on the dial. One can also incorporate down wait or stay into the mix of play. Thus, we are cleverly using play as both reinforcement and a means to teach correct and desired behaviors.
So suppose Pooch forgets and leaps at the frisbee in your hand? You, clever human, are the gateway to all that is good. At this point an utterance of “OOPS” would be in order, walking away, and removing access to doggy nirvana. Once Pooch has pondered a few minutes over his wayward behavior and correlation to frisbee withdrawal, resume play with request for a polite sit. Of course there are many many other factors to consider with this behavior, far too many for one article, but it does pay to play calm.
As well, you will want to work on conditioning sit and down during non play times (and other appropriate behaviors) so they are happening automatically on cue. The latter is a given with any dog that lacks manners. Playing Tug, which many folks think is a no no, can actually be our best friend in teaching impulse control and polite non leaping behavior during play. Until next Friday,here is hoping that Pooch can be positively influenced by your reading today.
Leslie Fisher PMCT CPDT-KA and the labbies: Talley Bridget and Doobie
“your pet positively trained”