How to weather the storm?
Halloween is coming. There will be lots of firework, screaming children, door bell going crazy…etc.
I would like to share my experience on how we can help a dog to stay calm in these type of situations.
Today, we had someone coming to clean up a fallen tree in the yard.
l had these pups all staying in a “down” on their cots while the workers were making lots of movements and loud noises in the yard.
I also took them out to the yard to potty and everyone was doing very well.
I used what they knew very well — the same system and structure that we have been going through day in and day out — as the “constant” to give them something familiar to focus and fall back on among the unfamiliar commotions — so their minds would not just go wild and become frantic.
The system that we use is very simple. For example, when l stop walking, they will sit. When l say “place” and “down”, they will stay on their cot in a “down” no matter what. When l say “let’s go”, they will walk next to me without pulling.
They know this system like the back of their paws.
How do we achieve that?
During our training, wherever they break command, l will stop it right away with “no” and use the leash/the ecollar to put them back right away.
They do not have 50 options to choose from as l don’t let them frantically move around trying to figure out what to do.
There is only one right answer and they know what that answer is due to lots of consistent repetitions.
lf they choose a different answer, l will proactively guide them to the right answer promptly.
Since they have learned to follow the leash, by using the leash, l can use the direction of the tension to give them a very clear sense of which way they should move. I can therefore guide them into the proper position with the leash quickly. There is no confusion. It is very black and white.
When they know very clearly what they should do, and are empowered to execute those options successfully and promptly, they are much less likely to become confused or anxious.
When the truck pulled in and the workers started getting out making lots of noises, I did not isolate the dogs far away in a room or hide them under a blanket. I did not turn up the music or put some tight fitting vests on them.
I was not trying to get through the situation with management; l wanted to embrace this opportunity to educate them so they could learn something useful and become stronger after.
I am their mentor and it is my job to educate and empower them.
I kept them close (at the proper distance) and taught them how to regulate themselves while following very simple and clear direction, namely, “place”.
This kind of experience will boost their confidence in themselves as they realize they actually have control over a situation that they original consider to be too frightening. Not only that, their confidence and trust in their human will grow as they experience success listening to their human — rather than defaulting to fight or flight.
A lot of people may struggle with this when they don’t know what to do once their dogs break command and everything becomes chaotic.
Very often, it is because there is a big missing puzzle in their structure.
Being able to say “no” and having the ability to stop the dog from breaking command in a timely manner is very important.
“No” means “stop”. It is a stop sign.
“No” does not mean “bad dog” or “l am so mad at you”. It simply means “stop what you are thinking and go back to doing what you should”.
“No” is a word that should stop a dog from disengagement and remind a dog to get back into actively thinking about what the proper decision is.
“No” is a word that redirects a dog from being frantic to becoming engaged again.
“No” is a word that challenges the dog to think about what the human has asked the dog to do so the dog will stop worrying about the crazy surrounding and focus on following and trusting the human.
“No” is a very important word especially in a scary situation. It can stop a dog from escalating and calm the dog down as he focuses on what he should do instead of being overtaken by what he should worry about.
Is there a clear and meaningful stop sign in your dog’s mind?
A dog will not understand the meaning of “no” automatically. It is a word that we need to condition a meaning to before we can use this word to help a dog to stay focused when we really need to.
“No” can be conditioned through our daily structure.
When a dog breaks a command inside the house, say, he gets up from a “sit” because he hears someone walking into the room, what do you do?
In our daily structure, we use a very simple system. Once a dog breaks a command, we will say “no”, and we will put the dog back to the position he is supposed to asap using the leash.
We will say “no” in a calm manner. It is not something we say to express our anger. And we never use the dog’s name to mean “no”. “No” simply means “stop”.
Our “no” is often paired with an appropriate level of aversive in the beginning so we can condition this sound to become a meaningful word to the dog.
After “no”, we will often remind the dog what the appropriate action should be, so the dog is not left in a limbo.
For example, if a dog gets up from a “sit”, we will say “no”, if the dog stops but does not go back to sitting back down right away, we will repeat “sit” to remind him what he should do, if there is any hesitation, we will use the leash/ecollar to follow through quickly.
Over time, with lots of consistent repetitions, once the dog hears our verbal “no”, he should understand he should stop, and start actively thinking about what he should do instead and go back to offering the proper behaviour quickly.
“No” is not abusive. It is a very important part of a canine-human relationship.
When the dog knows that we mean what we say, we are serious about what we are talking about, and we have the authority to follow through with our instructions, our dog will feel more secure and confident as he sees his human as someone with the strength and ability to control his surrounding very calmly and effectively.
Without an effective “no”, it is very hard for an anxious dog to fully trust and feel safe around his human.
“If you can’t even stop me from getting up from a sit whenever l feel like it, how can you stop that crazy dog from harming me or protect me from that really scary loud truck?”
When we put in the work through our daily life with a very simple and consistent structure all the time, we can prepare our dog to become more engaged, respectful, and trusting around us.
When we have a dog who finds us very relevant at all time, once we find ourselves in an unfamiliar crazy situation, we can use this familiar “constant” to keep our dog’s focus centered on us — and get through the storm without falling apart.
We need to prepare for the storm before the storm actually arrives. All the proper training and implementation of structure which we do day in and day out are the foundation and reinforcement of a solid relationship that will get our dog ready to come out victoriously when the storm hits.
When we are well prepared, as with everything else in life, we will be ready and won’t be caught off guard when the time comes.
That is why a very solid and consistent daily structure is what we practise with all the dogs every single day so when something unexpected happens — be it Halloween, Canada Day, or having a lot of strangers in the yard making crazy noises — they will be ready.
Hope this helps.