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Mealtime Training

Mealtime Training

If you’ve ever worked with a trainer, they will have suggested at one point or another that using mealtimes to train is the gold standard. Not only does this help decrease canine obesity by limiting the need for additional treats, it speeds up the learning process by requiring them to participate in their education for EVERY morsel. No more “free lunches,” they’ll say. But does that mean you need to have an hour training session with your dog for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? NO! The following are the 5 aspects of a GREAT mealtime routine that will mentally stimulate your dog, add to their energy outlet for the day, advance their obedience goals, and take no more than 10-15 minutes MAX! 

Every Mealtime Routine should have the following:

#1 One Old Command  

It’s great to start with things your pup knows. This could be as simple as asking for a few “Sits” and “Downs” in a row (or what we call, Puppy Push Ups) OR maybe your dog is stellar at “Place” so you do 3 “Place & Releases” in a row OR maybe your dog has been acing their “Heel” so you go on a short walk around the house or up and down one block. This should take 2 mins max, time yourself (it’s both longer and shorter than you’d expect hahah)! THEN spend another 2 mins Leveling Up this command in 1 small way (you will be doing this routine every day, multiple times a day, so slow and steady is going to win the race juuuust fine).

Sample of simple Level Ups to choose from:

  • Sit/Down – getting into a Sit from a Down (instead of a stand), eliminate hand lure for Down
  • Place – decreasing dependency on hand lure, increasing distance from the place, adding height to the place, add distraction (like toy toss, door knock, treat drop)
  • Heel – decrease reward frequency/dependency, add distractions

 

#2 One New Command 

What’s next on your list of commands you want your dog to learn? Add it in here. Maybe you haven’t taught Touch yet, or Look/Watch Me, or Stand? Get started now! You have 5 minutes.

 

#3 Old Trick(s) 

Eventually… everyone has a trick routine. The one you trot out for your friends to show off how cute your pup is? That’s the one! This should be a series of 2-5 tricks that your pup already knows like the back of their paw and has committed to physical memory. This is a break from the extreme mental focus and a chance to just fly through the easy section. If your pup needs a slight challenge, change up the order of the tricks each time you go through it. If you are just starting your routine and your pup doesn’t know any tricks yet, combine this time with the next section and use it to learn!

 

#4 One New Trick

 How fun was that last one! Super fun, right? THAT’S why trick training is so important to add in, in addition to obedience. It may not be useful in the traditional sense, but it decreases anxiety, promotes focus, and increases overall confidence.

 

#5 One Intellectual Project 

This last step is optional. It will depend on if you still have any food left in the bowl.  If you DO, don’t waste everything you have done for the last 15 minutes by just putting the food down on the floor.  BORING! Instead, end the Mealtime Routine with an intellectual session your dog can enjoy all on their own, extending the length of your routine without you having to facilitate it!

Some suggestions include:

  • Stuff remaining food in a Kong
  • Pour remaining food into an interactive toy or puzzle (I have been folding the rest of my dog’s kibble into a towel and leaving it on the floor… like really… it doesn’t need to be fancy…and even my 4-year-old child can do it)
  • Hide and Seek – ask dog to stay while you disperse remains of food around the room. Release dog right before you walk out.

That’s it! Now GET TO TRAINING!

Follow Up Questions and Answers:

Can this be done with raw food?

YES! Use a spoon or a reusable squeeze bottle to disperse the food for the training portion (for examples of a bottle – search on amazon for silicone condiment bottle or cosmetic bottle or even squeeze pouch! Lots of options!)

Is it worth it if I only have 5 minutes?

YES! Honestly even if the only thing you do is the Intellectual Project, you’re a winner in my book!

Is there an age minimum or maximum for mealtime training?

NOPE.  Adjustments may need to be made (physical adjustments for the elderly or starting at the very beginning with the youngest of them – maybe adding in handling or socialization exercises instead of the new tricks.)

Can my kids participate?

YES! Assuming your pup doesn’t have any aggression issues, mealtime training is a great time to work on bonding a pet with a human and a nice, structured way for a child to interact with your pup in a positive way (versus snuggles and chase games… which we discourage).

All About Separation Anxiety

All About Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is one of the most complex and daunting behavioral problems a dog owner can face. Many pet parents feel overwhelmed by the thought of their fur babies suffering from anxiety, and with so much information out there it’s hard to know where to start. Bottom line – dogs experiencing TRUE Separation Anxiety WILL need the help of a professional trainer/behaviorist. There are some steps you can take at home to relieve some of the stress your dog experiences when you leave. In this article we’ll cover some techniques you can use on your own, as well as sample the steps that a professional behaviorist would take to alleviate your pup’s separation anxiety. 

What can I do to help my dog with Separation Anxiety?

1. Prevent it

If you’re a new puppy owner there are some steps you can take to prevent your pup from developing Separation Anxiety. If your dog is not currently experiencing symptoms or if they have just begun acting anxious you may want to start with Teaching Your Dog to Be Alone – Separation Training. However, Separation Anxiety can occur for many reasons, including genetic predisposition or traumatic events that may be out of your control. In those cases, despite your prep work, your pup may still develop Separation Anxiety and need professional intervention.

2. Identify It 

The first step is to determine if your dog really is experiencing Separation Anxiety, or a different behavioral issue that may look similar.

What is TRUE Separation Anxiety? 

A condition in which a dog has a moderate to severe stress reaction when separated from their handler(s). It typically manifests within minutes of the handler leaving but can also resurface at any point during the departure or be triggered during the departure routine itself. The dog is not able to self soothe or relax throughout the separation and will not be easily distracted from their anxiety. The signs include:

  • Howling/barking
  • Urinating/defecating
  • Destruction, typically at exits of the house
  • Escape attempts
  • Pacing
  • Not able to lay down and relax/sleep
  • Drooling
  • Anxiety panting
  • Wrinkle in forehead
  • Wide eyes

3. Eliminate Alternatives

In order to diagnose and treat Separation Anxiety, you must first eliminate other potential causes. The signs of TRUE Separation Anxiety are shared with a variety of other behavior problems.

Here is a list of the most common behaviors misdiagnosed as Separation Anxiety:

  • Confinement Anxiety – Whining/ howling in the crate or in any confined area (in playpens or even just behind a closed door) could just be Confinement Anxiety triggered more by the space itself and less by you leaving. If this seems like a better description of your dog, check back for a link to confinement anxiety.
  • Housebreaking – Urinating/defecating in the house may happen if the dog did not get a chance to fully empty before the owners left or the dog is just not fully house broken yet. A need to potty could also cause whining/howling in the crate. Check out our 10 Commandments of Housebreaking.
  • Separation FUN / Boredom – Chewing and destruction could just be your dog having a great time munching on items they normally don’t get access to (or know better than to steal) when you are home.
  • Alert Reactivity – Barking may be a response to someone walking by the house or a package being dropped off at the door.
  • Dumpster Diver – A garbage can knocked over could be a learned behavior. In other words, your dog has had success finding leftover chicken in that garbage before, and with no one at home they are seizing the opportunity. A dog that has never Dumpster Dove before could decide to try it for the first time when you’re gone just because they got bored!

4. Try Basic Remedies

Dogs with TRUE separation anxiety are in distress. They will not eat while you are gone, they cannot be distracted from their anxiety by toys, and they don’t care if another dog is around.

If you still aren’t sure of the cause, try the following to see if the issue resolves itself:

  • Increase exercise – both in general and right before you leave (but allow them to relax before you walk out the door). Look into young pup exercise ideas.
  • Provide an at-home activity – like hidden treats around the home, or an interactive toy. Here is a link to The 25 Best Interactive Dog Toys Of 2020.
  • Counter Condition – to create a positive association with being alone, give your pup a yummy, long lasting (non-choking hazard) treat whenever you leave and pick it up when you come home.
  • Break Up the Day – to decrease chances of your pup getting bored. Incorporate a dog walker in the middle of the day if your schedule won’t allow you to return.
  • Incorporate Natural Remedies – to decrease stress in general. Many Flower Essence companies make formulas specifically designed to help with Separation Anxiety or Separation Anxiety-like symptoms – like this one from Black Wing Farms. You can also try Adaptil diffusers or collars which emit pheromones to produce a calming effect.
  • Leave a Piece of You – like a shirt or pillow that has your scent. With especially young pups, straight from the litter, they may also find comfort in an item that mimics a heartbeat – like this one.
  • Make leaving low key – by decreasing the farewell fanfare. Also consider decreasing the Hello Party when you return to manage the entrance/exit arousal level in general. Check out our article on Calm Greetings.
  • Practice Leaving – multiple times a day. It may just be that you have been spending too much time at home with your pup and they need the chance to adjust to your new social calendar. Go through the Teaching Your Dog to Be Alone article to make sure you are covering all your bases.

When should I consult a professional?

If the signs of distress persist or escalate despite your attempts to intervene with the above tactics, it’s time to bring in a professional to both diagnose the behavior issue (whether it’s an anxiety disorder or not) and create a plan to manage and modify it.

If it turns out you are in fact dealing with TRUE Separation Anxiety, you should ideally be working with a certified behaviorist or anxiety specialist. 

How will a behaviorist treat Separation Anxiety?

Once you’ve committed to seeking professional help, you may be curio us as to what steps they will take to modify the Separation Anxiety. Here is some insight into the behaviorist’s strategy:

Monitor

One of the many tricks up the Professional’s sleeve is Video Monitoring. Video monitoring isn’t very helpful if you don’t know what you’re looking for. But with a professional on your team, this tool will allow them to procure the accurate information to assess, diagnose, and create a modification plan, and have easy access to information throughout the process in order to make adjustments to the plan and ensure success.

Diagnose

A professional will use the above monitoring aid to determine if your dog is truly stressed (by identifying and analyzing subtle body language signals) and will identify the triggers causing the stress (to determine if the triggers indicate Separation related Anxiety). Once this assessment is complete, they can diagnose.

Many unintended diagnosis errors are made without the involvement of a professional. 

Your neighbor may think any amount of barking is unbearable and dramatically describe the barking as “it went on for, like, all day” when in reality it only persisted for 15 minutes. It may be that your dog only barks when a package gets delivered but no one thought to check this correlation. Perhaps your pup’s destruction was done out of fun, but no one caught the loose body language that would have proven the lack of anxiety. A specialist will have seen so many cases of separation anxiety before, they will know exactly where to look. Their involvement will speed up the diagnosis process so you can begin fixing the problem as soon as possible.

Make A Plan

Once you’ve diagnosed the issue, a modification plan will be needed.

If it turns out your pup is experiencing TRUE Separation Anxiety, a detailed professional plan is even more important.

The following is a generic plan and will give you a peek into Separation Anxiety modification. However, the differences in separation anxiety cases are VAST. A professional will take a generalized plan like this and customize it to your dog specifically, a necessary step to ensure the fastest fix and most lasting success.

What will the plan be?

Every Separation Anxiety Modification plan consists of the following:

  • Setting up for Success
  • Identifying the Departure Triggers
  • Setting Long Term Milestones
  • Desensitizing to the Departure Elements
  • Preparing for Setbacks

1. Set Up for Success

  • Suspend Absences – This means, do not leave the dog home alone AT ALL. Suspending absences will give your dog time to reset, relax, and ensure you are not taking major steps back after every practice session.
  • Create A Village – Your pup may be fine at home with you gone, as long as you leave someone else there with them (this is a type of separation anxiety called “Isolation Anxiety”) Having someone to stay with your dog isn’t a solution but it’s an important tool to long term success. Find people to help you supervise your dog so you can still live your life. Pet sitters, daycare, family/friends, use social media like Facebook and Nextdoor app to look for neighbors who are also dealing with the same issue so you can trade dog sitting when needed. If your pup panics even when left with another person, you may need to take some extra steps to help them develop a bond outside yourself before moving forward with any modification.
  • Manage Expectations – Plan to practice for 30ish minutes, 5 to 6 days a week for anywhere from a few weeks to months. Anxiety disorders won’t change overnight.
  • Understand Your End GoalThe ultimate goal is for your dog to be completely calm and non-reactive when you depart. In order to achieve this goal, you will need to stay under your dog’s threshold and fully desensitize your dog to each of the many triggers involved in your departure.

Vocabulary Guide:

A Trigger – is any event that precedes your pup’s reaction (in Separation Anxiety this could be putting your shoes on, touching the front door, starting the car, etc.).

The Threshold – is the level at which you can expose a pup to a trigger and not elicit any distress. “Over threshold” means your pup is stressed and “under threshold” they are not.

Desensitization – is a technique of frequently exposing the dog to a trigger at a very low level in order to keep them under threshold until the phobia, concern, or reaction has been eliminated.

2. Identify the Triggers: The 4 Departure Elements

The following are descriptions of the elements inherent in any departure and samples of some of the most common triggers (or cues) that exist within them.

The exact triggers for your unique case of Separation Anxiety are determined by your dog alone.

Work with your behaviorist to identify the complete list of triggers and cues for YOUR pup.

  • Pre-Departure Cues (PreDQs) – This element consists of the ques that typically trigger your dog that you are getting ready to leave. E.g., holding keys, putting on shoes, putting on jacket, holding purse. If your morning routine is especially structured, some cues can start triggering your dog even earlier (like turning off the morning shower, putting on your makeup, turning on the coffee maker or anything else you only do on a day when you plan to leave the house).
  • Walk Out – This element consists of the actions in the departure process that get you from inside the door to outside the door. E.g., getting up, walking to the door, touching the door, turning the knob, opening the door, walking out, closing the door.
  • Stay Out – This element is the amount of time you stay out of the house.  Each additional minute (or sometimes second) can be an additional trigger to the dog. 
  • Post-Departure Cues (PostDQs) – These are the ques that typically trigger to your dog that you are leaving for a LONG TIME (i.e., more than just taking out the trash or getting the mail). E.g., locking the door, walking out the security gate, unlocking the car, starting the car, driving away.

3. Set Milestones 

The Separation Anxiety modification process is loooong.

It’s easy to get lost in the day to day. A list of Milestones can be used to organize an overall plan or to provide achievable objectives to celebrate along the way to the end goal

Your list will be created by your behaviorist so it can be customized to your dog’s specific manifestation of Separation Anxiety. The milestones may be changed, reordered, and adjusted over and over again throughout the process but will help you stay focused on the end result.

4. Desensitization Protocol 

This protocol is a SAMPLE step by step plan that can be used to reach a milestone, and eventually achieve the end goal.

  • Choose Your Element – Follow your behaviorists list of goals to determine which Departure Element to work on first. Usually this will be the “Walk Out” element.
  • Choose a Trigger/Cue – Pick an item from the chosen Departure Elements to desensitize your dog to. Always choose the FIRST item that elicits even minor stress in your dog. E.g., in the Walking Out element, many dogs begin showing stress with the trigger “walking to the door” BUT if your pup doesn’t show signs of stress until you actually touch the doorknob, you can start there. You may be missing your dog’s stress signals! This is yet another reason why a professional should be involved.
  • Enact the Trigger/Cue – Practice physically walking to the door, putting on shoes or whatever item you are currently working on.  Make sure your pup stays under threshold.
  • Return to Neutral – Return to your resting state and wait for your dog to relax. They may still be alert but should not look stressed.  This can take anywhere from 5 seconds to 90+ seconds.
  • Repeat – Steps 3 and 4 over and over for approximately 30 minutes.  The exact timing will vary from dog to dog and change from practice session to practice session based on your results.
  • Practice – Steps 3-5 once a day for 5-6 days a week. 1-2days off will allow the dog to rest and grow.  This phase can take anywhere from one week to a month as you wait for the last trigger or cue you included to be fully desensitized
  • Stay Out – At the end of the 30-minute practice session, ONLY if you have already desensitized to the “Walking Out” Departure Element and ONLY if your dog is completely calm, begin desensitizing to staying outside the closed door. Have an initial goal of 1 minute. If you have already reached the 1-minute goal AND have desensitized to some or all your PreDQs, consider taking one step back in order to take a larger step forward. Remove your PreDqs momentarily while you focus on increasing time alone. Increase the “Stay Out” time very slowly, potentially by only a few seconds per practice session. After you reach your specific “Stay Out” milestone, add back in any removed PreDQs one at a time.
  • Add Another Trigger/Cue – Incorporate the next item from the Departure Element category you are working on. This will only be possible once the previous trigger has been somewhat to completely desensitized. You may need to decrease Stay Out time temporarily until the new trigger is less intense and add your Stay Out time back in. See below for other normal and expected Setbacks.
  • Fade Out Practice Session – DO NOT attempt this step unless you have fully desensitized to all 4 Departure Elements AND have reached at least an hour of Stay Out time.
  • BONUS! Outfit and Time Changes – Many dogs can be ok with you leaving the home for work but that second exit (for drinks with friends or a dinner date maybe?) is a problem. Do your practice sessions at different times of the day. Also, incorporate different types of clothes. Careful not to only desensitize your dog to your work outfits or your pajamas. Do some practice with gym clothes, soccer gear, date night outfit etc. to make sure you didn’t miss a trigger there.

 5. Prepare for Setbacks 

It is typical to have plateaus where you feel like you are stuck in the same spot of your training for longer than you expected. This is normal and you’ll work through it. Don’t forget that you can take a day off.

There will also be setbacks along the way.

Don’t lose hope! Our dogs recover from these setbacks much faster than they originally did because of the previous work we have done. The most common ones listed below:

  • Relocating – to a new room in the house, to a new house, to a new city.
  • New Roomies – or when a new family member is added or leaves the family dynamic.
  • Trauma – or tragic events for the human or dog. 

Conclusion

Ultimately the best thing you can do for your dog’s separation anxiety is to consult a professional. Many dogs experience some mild stress when their owners leave the house. But if you’ve tried some basic remedies and are not seeing improvement, seek help! It may seem like an overwhelming process, but with a professional by your side, breaking the goals down into bite sized achievements, you CAN alleviate your dog’s anxiety! 

Counter Surfing

Counter Surfing

Have you ever walked into your kitchen and thought “Hmm… I could have sworn I left a WHOLE CHICKEN right here on the counter?” Then you turned to see Sparky smugly licking his lips, proud of another successful counter conquest. Maybe you’ve even caught them in the act – front paws (or even all four!) up on the counter cleaning up your leftovers. 

This is Counter Surfing. A fun term for a very annoying, and potentially dangerous, behavior. 

WHY does my dog do this?

Dogs, like many of us, repeat behaviors that feel GOOD. Eating your chicken, feels (and tastes) GREAT! If your dog is rewarded every time they jump on the counter or even SOME of the time, they now have a positive association with counter surfing, and a good reason to continue testing their luck every time they pass by. Sometimes they may only get a crumpled-up paper napkin, but it’s still worth it to try if SOMETIMES they score that roasted chicken jackpot!

Step 1: Consider Health

Before attempting to modify the behavior itself, consider that a health issue may be the culprit. Dogs may counter surf for the following health related reasons:

  • Imbalanced nutrition or malnutrition: Dogs will seek out nutrients missing in their diet in other sources, even sometimes eating non-food items. Look for other symptoms such as lethargy, abnormal stools, and changes in coat/skin condition. Even if the only symptom is an overactive drive for food, contact a veterinary nutritionist to rule out a nutritional issue.
  • Lack of exercise: If your dog is not getting the proper amount of physical or mental exercise, they will expend that extra energy in inappropriate ways, like counter surfing. The amount of exercise your dog needs varies based on age and breed. Try increasing your pup’s activity level by incorporating fetch, tug, doggy daycare, or canine enrichment games like treat puzzles or snuffle mats.
  • Anxiety: Is the counter surfing only happening when you’re out of the house? Maybe this isn’t just a crime of opportunity, but an expression of separation anxiety. If your pup is experiencing other symptoms of separation anxiety contact your trainer! Check back for how to prevent separation anxiety and how to fix it!
  • Boredom: Related to both lack of exercise and anxiety, boredom often leads to unwanted behavior. Try keeping your pup busy with something more interesting than what’s on the counter, like chews (supervised), puzzles, stuffed kongs, or playtime!

Step 2: Puppy Proof

Clean off those countertops! By managing the environment, you will have an easier time modifying the behavior. This will help in 2 ways – 1) you are reducing your dog’s desire to counter surf in the first place and 2) if your dog does jump on the counter, you are removing the reward.

Remove Access to the FREE Rewards!

If they continue testing their luck, hopping on the counter every time they pass, but each time there is no reward, then eventually that behavior will DECREASE.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep food and other tempting objects out of range. Remember, if your dog gets ahold of that chicken even once, he was rewarded for the behavior and the counter surfing will INCREASE! Consistency is crucial. 
  • If you have to have food on the counters, but can’t monitor your dog closely, block off the kitchen with a gate or door, or keep your dog in a separate room.   

The next step, teaching Alternate Behaviors such as obedience commands, will be easier and more successful if the distraction level is lowered i.e., instead of a whole chicken on the counter, you have a lower value item like a vegetable, or nothing at all! 

Step 3: Teach an Alternative Behavior

Once the environment is managed and you have lessened your dog’s desire to jump and he is no longer being rewarded for counter surfing, you can start implementing basic obedience skills to teach your dog alternate behaviors!

Try these:

  • “Leave It”  – When your dog starts sniffing around the counter, use the “Leave It” command. When they redirect their attention to you, mark with a “Yes!” and reward with a high value treat!
  • “Off” – If your pup already has their paws on the counter, you can use “Off” to ask them to return all four paws to the floor. When all four paws touch the floor, mark with a “Yes!” and reward with a high value treat!
  • “Sit” – Ask your dog for a sit EVERY TIME they enter the kitchen, mark with a “Yes!” and reward with a treat! Now their new routine is, “when I enter the kitchen, I sit and I get rewarded.” It’s pretty hard to jump on the counter when your butt is on the ground!
  • “Place” – Send your dog to their “Place” while cooking or eating dinner. Make sure you give treats intermittently, so your pup learns that they are more likely to be rewarded for staying on their Place than they are for counter surfing!
  • “Out” – Get your dog to walk out of the kitchen (or any room) on command.  Tell your dog ”Out” and toss a treat out of the room. Say “YES!” and reward them again once they have all four paws out of the space.

Step 4: Reward What You DO Want

Once you have incorporated basic obedience, now you must reinforce the behavior you WANT to see, four paws on the floor. Every time your dog walks by the counter and makes the decision NOT to counter surf, reward with a treat! We want to create a positive association with keeping all four paws on the ground.

WARNING: This step can also create a positive association with simply being in the kitchen, so we suggest teaching the “Out” command at the same time to make sure you are also rewarding them for leaving the kitchen altogether.

How to reinforce the positive behavior:

  • Start with low value items like a vegetable or a paper towel on the counter. If these items are still too tempting, then start with an empty counter. 
  • Frequently treat your pup for keeping all four paws on the ground. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are interested in the counter at all. Not jumping is the behavior we want to see, so reward it! 
  • In addition to the treats you give, you can prep the kitchen floor with FREEBIES when your pup isn’t looking.  This way anytime they go in the kitchen they will be focused more on the floor than on the counter.  
  • You can gradually increase the distraction level by placing higher value items on the counter. Be careful not to increase the distraction level too quickly. The goal is for your dog to become disinterested in whatever is on the counter and VERY interested in the treats that come from YOU (and the floor)!
  • Continue to use your “Leave It” and “Off” command if necessary, just make sure to reward! 
  • If you can’t be present in the kitchen to monitor and reward the good behavior, go back to Step 2 and make sure there is no Counter Reward present to temp your dog! 

In Conclusion…

After some consistency from you and a lot of treats, Sparky now has better impulse control in the kitchen. Does this mean that if you leave Sparky alone with that whole chicken, he will be able to ignore it every time? Probably not! That is too high value of an item for many dogs to simply ignore. But by managing Sparky’s environment, giving him other activities to do, rewarding the good behavior, and if necessary, punishing the bad behavior, you will be setting him up for success in the kitchen. Sorry Sparky, no more surfing for you! 

Calm Greetings: Calm Dogs

Calm Greetings: Calm Dogs

Why are Calm Greetings Important?

It’s important to remember that in dog language EXCITEMENT is not the same as HAPPY. Of course, your dog is happy to see you! But if they are overly “excited” then they are also experiencing stress or anxiety. If this over excitement/anxiety is repeatedly rewarded with what your dog values most – your attention, then the dog will never gain control over their own emotional state, resulting in unwanted uncontrolled behaviors like jumping, barking, whining, nipping, mouthing, pulling on the leash or an overall exacerbation of anxiety issues into things like separation anxiety.

In order to prevent or reverse this pattern, we must teach our dog to be calm.

A Calm Dog = A Happy Dog!

What Does a Calm Greeting Look Like?

  • Your dog exhibits loose body language- loose wagging tail and possibly a loose wiggly body.
  • Your dog is able to control their impulses enough that they can obey basic commands like sit.
  • Your dog is able to disengage on their own and go about their business without having to be told!
  • Your dog may not approach at all! This doesn’t mean they don’t love you!  It means they are confident in your relationship and their place in the world and don’t need to explode emotionally to express that to you.

What Does Over Excitement Look Like?

  • Barking or Whining
  • Jumping
  • Panting Excessively
  • Pacing or Zooming
  • Urinating
  • Lunging/ Pulling on the Leash

What Should You Do?

Needing to address calming your dog down in a specific situation? Use the links below to jump ahead.

GREETING YOU

If your pup is losing control of themselves with YOU, it’s unfair to expect them to act any different with someone else. Start working toward a calmer relationship with the following steps. 

Step 1: Ignore Excitement

This is the hardest part! 

When you first arrive home, ignore your dog completely. This means you do not look at them, do not speak to them, do not pet them.

For some pups, even telling them “no,” pushing them off, or asking for a Sit right away is rewarding for them, because they are still getting attention from you! If your dog is Sitting but still barely containing their excitement, the command alone has not achieved your calmness goal. If you take all the emotion out of your entrance FIRST, eventually your dog will learn that:

  • Mom/Dad coming home is a perfectly ordinary event that happens every day (if not multiple times a day). There was no reason to be worried about them leaving, therefore, there is no reason to be ecstatic that they returned.
  • Someone walking through the door is not an “event.” If it isn’t an event when Mom/Dad do it, then it shouldn’t be an event when a guest does it either.
  • Excitement and jumping do NOT give me what I want (attention). I better chill out, so I can be a better listener and find out what WILL get me what I want.

The sooner your dog realizes there is no reason for and no benefit to getting excited when you come home, they will be in a better state to hear you when you give them an alternative behavior like Sit, or Place (see next step).

PRO TIP: Ignoring your dog is no easy task! Afterall, we got them because we love interacting with them. Make this challenge easier by having a job to do right when you walk in the door. Make a sandwich, change your clothes, etc. Anything to help you keep your attention from your pup.

Step 2: Give an Alternative

If part of the reason your dog is fawning over you is because they have learned that the more obnoxious they are the more likely you are to look at them, convince them the opposite is true.

Incorporate behaviors into your daily routine that regularly reward being controlled and calm.

Preferably these behaviors will be directly incompatible with certain expressions of over excitement, like jumping.

For example:

  • “Place” – Use Place to send your pup to their bed to earn their favorite chew or before you put their leash on for a walk.
  • “Sit” – Teach your dog to Sit to get let up on the couch, before you throw a toy, or any time before you give affection throughout the day.
  • “Wait” – Teach your dog to wait before putting their food bowl down for meals.
  • “Settle” – Use Settle to teach your dog to enter a state of zen in any environment.

Each of these commands will improve your dog’s ability to control their initial emotional response to their environment AND give them an option to earn rewards with behavior that is healthy and appropriate. They will also teach your dog how to focus and relax in the middle of a sometimes-hectic life. (For more information on how to incorporate impulse control into your daily routine stay tuned for the article on Work Experience). 

Step 3: Reward Calm

Once your dog has calmed down and has their emotions under control, now it’s ok to greet! Note that if it takes 20 minutes for your dog to calm down, then you will be ignoring your dog for 20 minutes before you can consider engaging with them. Things to remember when greeting your dog:

  • Greetings are a reward, especially if your pup is particularly motivated by affection (like a Golden Retriever). Dole out your affection in the same way you would a treat, for behaviors you want to see repeat (so, NOT for jumping, pacing, whining, barking, mouthing, etc.)
  • Lead by example! If you want calm behavior from your dog, then you must be calm yourself. Dog’s mirror our energy and emotions. Avoid using scratching to pet your dog or a high-pitched voice to greet your dog. Scratching is stimulating but slow long strokes are calming. A high-pitched tone encourages excitement, whereas a neutral tone adds no emotion to the moment.
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  • Consider no greeting at all. As we discussed above, sometimes what your dog needs most of all is to break the association between someone coming through the door, and the PARTY. Consider waiting until later in the day to have your snuggle-fest instead of doing it when you get home. 

Step 4 (If Needed): Add A Negative Consequence

What happens if you enter your home and attempt to ignore your pup, but they start playing tug with your pants or jump up and grab your hair?? There may come a time when your pup’s over-excited behavior cannot be ignored. 

You may need to send a message to your pup that inappropriate greetings make me leave.

If you walk into your home and are greeted by a frantic superfan, immediately walk back outside. Count to 10 and come in again. Repeat this until your pup is ignorable. 

GREETING GUESTS

The process for addressing this behavior is similar to the one above. But there is a key difference –

You must convince your guest to participate! 

Step 1: (Prepare the Guest To) Ignore Excitement

Talk to your guests before they arrive and ask them to ignore your dog. If the “guest” is someone you see on the street, simply tell them; “We are working on their manners. They cannot say hi if they aren’t calm.” Getting cooperation can be tricky. If you have a guest that cannot cooperate for some reason (maybe it’s a young child or that one friend who can’t seem to follow directions), then your dog may have to remain separated or in their crate during the visit.

Any reinforcement of the jumping and over excitement will set back your training

Make sure your pup is always on leash while they are learning to be calm.  This will give you the control you need to keep your pup separated from the guest until they earn the release through composure.

Step 2: Give an Alternative

If your guests are on board with your strategy, then you can make it even more effective by incorporating your obedience commands!

  • “Place” – Use Place to send your pup to their bed before the guest enters. Once your guest has settled in and your dog has calmed down on their place, you can dismiss for a calm greeting!
  • “Sit” – Teach your dog to sit anytime someone approaches. Now rather than jumping for attention, they are sitting for attention!

Step 3: Reward Calm

Again, it may take your dog a good 20 minutes to relax after your guest enters their orbit. Once they have calmed down, you can release them to greet. Remind your guest that they must lead by example and keep their greeting calm so that your pup will follow suit. This greeting is a GIFT to both your pup AND the guest! If the guest can’t adhere to the rules, no greeting!     

Step 4 (If Needed): Add A Negative Consequence

If even after achieving calm your pups go-to greeting for your guests is to jump straight up and muzzle punch/kiss their face, then it may be time to add a negative consequence for an over-the-top love session. As stated above, when confronted with un-ignorable behavior, you need your pup to understand that…

inappropriate greetings make guests disappear.

PRO TIP: You do not need to allow your dog to greet everyone they see on a walk to “socialize” them. In fact, you SHOULDN’T.  If you do, they will start to expect that every person you pass is there to PARTY with them. They will begin to pull towards every person they see. If you allow only the occasional greeting, and only if they are completely calm, they will be much less likely to expect an interaction, and more able to control their impulses.

GREETING DOGS

Since dogs are one of the most stimulating beings your pup will come in contact with, greetings with them should be managed just like everything else… with one notable extra… the unbreakable rule:

NO ON-LEASH GREETINGS WITH DOGS!

The reasons for NO ON-LEASH GREETINGS are as follows:

  1. If you frequently allow your dog to greet other dogs on walks, they will come to expect this and try to pull you towards every dog they see.
  2. The restraint of the leash coupled with over excitement can create frustration. This excited/anxious energy can easily develop into leash aggression if left unchecked. Stay tuned for our article on Leash Aggression.
  3. The restraint of a leash hinders your dog’s ability to communicate naturally with other dogs. It distorts their body language resulting in MANY miscommunications. Some examples include:
    • The Approach: Your dog’s body pressure against the leash as they walk inadvertently produces a forward body posture. This look is interpreted by other dogs as extremely confrontational. If your dog is pulling towards another dog on leash, the other dog may assume your dog is preparing for a fight and feel the need to defend themselves by snapping as soon as they are within reach. Many well-meaning puppies get their face bit in this way. 
    • The Interaction: Leashed interactions often result in face-to-face greetings off the bat. Head on interactions are considered very rude in natural dog communication. This distortion can make for a rocky start to a new relationship.  
    • The Exit: When leashed, your dog does not have the option to take space from a conversation they are not enjoying. With the flight option off the table, they will be more likely to be pushed into a defensive fight.

YES to OFF-LEASH Dog Play

If you are introducing your dog to another dog OFF LEASH, sweet! Make sure you have set them up for success by exercising them beforehand, relieving any pent-up tension or energy surplus. Then, abide by the same steps for a canine guest as you did with the human guest.

Step 1: Ignore Excitement

Wait on leash at a distance for your dog (or both dogs – if on a playdate) to calm down before removing the leash and allowing them to greet. Increase the distance as needed until all parties are calm. At the dog park you can do this by waiting a few feet from the entrance or even while you are in the airlock if no one else is waiting to exit/enter.

Step 2: Give an Alternative

Especially if ignoring the excitement is not working (maybe the playmates are setting each other off over and over), you may need to incorporate a command to redirect your pups’ attention to you or to a task.  Try a basic obedience command like “sit,” “down,” or “look” to encourage calm attentiveness before releasing and rewarding with a play session.  

Step 3: Reward Calm 

When they no longer are triggering into over excitement release them but do so CALMLY. Instead of “OK! Go PARRRTTAAYYY!” try a simple monotone release.

Set the tone for the entire interaction – calm and emotionally controlled. 

PRO TIP: Choose your pups playmates wisely.  If they are prone toward over excitement, the best playmate is most likely a mature, balanced, well socialized dog with years of experience in emotional control. Read more about canine socialization HERE coming soon.

 

Conclusion

If you enforce calm greetings in every interaction your dog has, you will decrease or eliminate problem behaviors like jumping! You will also decrease the likelihood of your dog developing separation anxiety or leash aggression. A calm dog is a happy dog.

 

Keep Away

Keep Away

If you’ve ever chased your dog through the gauntlet of your house while their slobber infiltrates your favorite pair of socks and they shamelessly taunt you with their superior agility, this article is for you. You are caught in the endless cycle of your dog’s FAVORITE game – Keep Away.  For many of you, this game may just be an annoyance, but for some whose dogs are actually swallowing things, this game can be severely dangerous.

WHY does my dog do this?

Dogs are very motivated by your attention. Getting your attention leads to affection, outings, food, play etc. They learn quickly that every time they pick up a prohibited item, they get your attention, and they get it quickly! Some will even learn which specific items will get your attention the fastest. It could be one item (just your shoes), a specific category (like shoes, glasses, phone cords) or they could learn to test the waters and attempt to pick up anything and everything just in case it might strike gold! In addition to getting your attention, some dogs are also getting a game.  Maybe it’s just the game of “chase me” or MAYBE you’ve managed to get your hand on the item they’ve taken so now it’s a full-on game of Tug-of-War. YOU aren’t playing… but THEY are having a blast! The bottom line is this – attention and games are rewarding.

If you continue to reward your dog when they steal things, they will continue to steal things to get the reward. 

Step 1: Consider Their Health 

If your dog is not getting the proper amount of physical or mental exercise, they will have extra energy to expend in inappropriate ways, like Keep Away.

The amount of exercise your dog needs varies based on age and breed. Try increasing your pup’s activity level by incorporating more walks (or maybe runs, if they are old enough), doggy daycare, or canine enrichment games like treat puzzles, or snuffle mats. 

Step 2: Control What You Can

PUPPY PROOF

Clean off those countertops! Tidy up the living room! Close the door to the kids’ room!

By managing the environment, you will have an easier time modifying the behavior.

The only thing worse than a game of Keep Away with your dog, is an impromptu game of Keep Away when you are completely unprepared and have somewhere important to be. If you control their access to the inappropriate items, you will have control over when they play Keep Away and can therefore make sure you are ready for the practice session. If your pup is specifically stealing items from on top of your counters, fix this first with the steps in the Counter Surfing Article Coming Soon.

PACK TREATS

Put Treats in your pocket first thing in the morning and make sure you have little treat caches easily accessible throughout the house. Your pup currently thinks the best thing AND the most LIKELY thing they can get in exchange for the item in their mouth is a game of Keep Away. That’s probably because the first few times they stole something, they caught you unprepared. You don’t have a treat on you, so instead of attempting a trade, you tried your luck at snatching. It didn’t work, but the damage was done. They were introduced to the game of Keep Away and haven’t looked back since. Putting treats in your pocket at the beginning of the day means you will ALWAYS be prepared for a Trade.

CUT OFF THE TRACK

Cut off access to their go-to Keep Away spots – Kitchen islands or tables are especially fun (for the dog, not you) because they can run all the way around and easily evade you by keeping the piece of furniture in between the two of you. Backyards are also a common favorite because generally the yard is too large for you to have ANY chance of reaching the dog once the game has started. Use closed doors or baby gates to restrict access to the rooms they use most often to infuriate you.  

INCORPORATE A DRAG LINE

Freedom is earned. If your pup has proven they will consistently choose naughtiness, consider attaching a dragline while you are home (NEVER while they are unattended).

Chasing a dog does NOT help you catch them faster.

But until you have other tools in place (laid out in the following Steps) you may need some way to catch them in the meantime. The leash provides you with that option. If the lead is 10-20 feet long, even if your PUP evades you, the leash will not.

Step 3: Teach an Alternative Behavior

For many dogs (especially retrievers), having something in their mouths is an inevitability. But we CAN focus this obsession on something more appropriate. Now that the environment is managed and you have “stopped the bleeding,” shall we say, you now have the time and space to develop some alternative ways for your dog to earn your attention and praise.

Try these:

  • “Clean Up” – Teach your pup to place items they find in a designated spot, like in a garbage pail or back in their toy basket!
  • “Gimmie That” (the Trade) – Teach your pup to put items they find in your hand (in trade for a treat of course). This trick is a replacement for snatching.

Instead of you grabbing the item, the dog learns to give it up willingly.

In other words, do NOT reach out towards the item or put your hand on the item before asking for the command. Simply present your open palm so that there is no guessing as to your intentions. You are NOT going to take the item; you are going to wait until your pup gives it to you.  Once there is no more grabbing, there is no more Tug-Of-War.  If you eliminate Tug- Of-War, you may be eliminating your dog’s reason for Keep Away in the first place.

  • “Drop It” – Teach your pup to willingly release an item from their grip. The alternative is often you frustratingly prying the item out of their clenched jaws. This invasive maneuver is one of the most common causes of Resource Guarding. Making your dog comfortable with releasing valuable items will decrease any anxiety they may feel around those items and therefore decrease any desire to guard.
  • “Come” – Teach your dog to come to you and allow you to catch them REGARDLESS of what is in their mouth. I’m sure when this whole thing started you did try “Drop It” but your dog ignored you because they were too far away. Convince them that you don’t CARE what’s in their mouth, as long as they Come to you.

If you can’t get the item, get the dog.

Step 4: Change the Pattern

STOP Rewarding What You DON’T Want

 

To change the pattern, you have to cut off your involvement in it. In other words – DON’T want the item and DON’T chase the dog. 

Convince your dog that you could NOT CARE LESS about their prize. 

If you don’t want it, they have no reason to keep it from you. In addition, every move in your dog’s direction is considered chasing. Chasing is the best part of Keep Away. No Chasing = No Keep Away… 

 

Try these alternatives:

  • Stop Advancing – What is better than Advancing? Waiting. As soon as your pup shows up with the item in their mouth and that mischievous expression, take a seat.

If you make ANY moves towards the pup, this will be considered an acceptance of the game invitation.

If you take a seat, this usually indicates to your dog that the game has ended (since you don’t usually play with them in that state). This alone could be all you need to get your dog to come to you.

  • Negotiate Well  The person with the upper hand in any negotiation, is the person who wants it LESS and has ALL the time in the world. As you are preparing to trade with your pup, make sure you make your lack of interest clear and you are prepared to be patient. While you are seated, take a treat out of your pocket and show it to your dog. Do not reach out towards them. Ask them if they want to trade (maybe use one of the Alternate Behaviors you have taught them) and WAIT. Wait, potentially, a long time. At first your pup may not believe what’s happening, because they are so used to you getting upset. The key here is NOT to care. If they want to come over or even drop the item, they will get a treat, if they don’t, they won’t. It’s no matter to you.

*Obviously if your dog has something dangerous you may not have the freedom to wait them out. This is why it’s SO important to practice OFTEN with non-toxic items. These practice sessions trick your dog into thinking you don’t care if they steal stuff (no matter what it is) and you won’t chase them (under any circumstances). It also teaches them that there are other games they can play that DO succeed in getting your attention, making Keep Away altogether pointless. Once they are convinced of these new results to their stealing game, the old pattern will be broken and not even a high value or dangerous item will trigger it.

  • Stop Chasing – What is better than chasing? Leaving.

In some cases, you can make a bigger impression by giving your pup the OPPOSITE of what they want.

When you see them exploring, sniffing or attempting to pick up an inappropriate item, try getting up and leaving the room immediately. Go into another room, bathroom or even out your front door and close the doors behind you. Create an immediate correlation that when they explore inappropriate items, it makes you get up and leave and they cannot access you/your attention. Oftentimes when you return, they will be so happy to see you, they will approach you willingly.  

Step 5: Reward What You DO Want

What do we usually do when a dog sniffs, picks up or plays with their dog toys?? Nothing! We usually don’t even notice. The dog does not get any positive reinforcement from the owners when they play with their toys on their own. Start to pay attention to when your dog explores/picks up their own toys. Go towards them in a fun, playful manner and play the highly reinforcing game of fetch and/or tug of war.

Step 6: Review of the Rules

DO NOT chase them – instead leave the room

DO NOT move towards the dog – instead get your treat, take a seat and wait

DO NOT grab at the item – instead ask for a “drop it” and encourage a VOLUNTARY TRADE

DO increase their mental and physical exercise

DO engage with them when they pick up appropriate items

DO teach the dog other ways to get your attention/treats

Intro To Handling

Intro To Handling

Teaching your pup how to tolerate handling will set them up for a stress-free life navigating through the human world. Your pup may think you are the center of the universe, but it doesn’t mean they will never have to interact with the other planets in the solar system. Prepare them early in the following ways:

GROOMER:

We handle and physically praise our dogs in a variety of ways, but we very seldom come close to handling them in the same way the groomer does (think face hair tugging, knot pulling, brushing, washing, ear cleaning, and nail clipping). Help your dog be comfortable at the groomer by incorporating an unusual handling exercise into every day.  Manipulate their paw pads, give a treat, manipulate, treat, manipulate, treat. The next day choose something different. 

VET:

The same goes for the vet. How many of us regularly stick our fingers in our dog’s ears, mouth, eyes? How many of us look under their tails, squeeze their bellies, or restrain them as if they are about to get a shot? Probably not many. However, it is important they learn that this treatment is not reserved for the man/woman in the scary white coat. If you pup is at the vet, chances are they aren’t feeling too well. The least we can do is make sure the handling they receive is not adding to the discomfort. As with the grooming exercises, choose one to practice every day AND make a point to visit your vet regularly, even when your pup does not need to be there, just to get a few treats and leave!

KIDS:

Children are like tiny little aliens. Their movements are unpredictable, their sounds are unusual and loud, and they are naturally at your dog’s eye level at all times. What makes them worse is their general lack of canine body language awareness. They tend to pet by grabbing, pulling, patting, kissing, hugging, etc. All things that dogs can learn to tolerate but that no dog is born loving.  Help your pup prepare for interaction with a child by desensitizing them to these unique ways of handling in the safety of their own home and with the person they trust most, YOU!  

RELAX / SETTLE:

If your pup can relax, lay down, or better yet, be comfortable showing their belly/being on their back they are more likely to tolerate being handled. You can practice this at home by working on “cradling.” With small dogs this can be done in your arms, holding them like a baby with belly up. With larger dogs this can be done on the floor, holding them between your legs like a taco with dog filling. In both cases, the goal is to have a pup that is relaxed and not squirming. If they squirm, try not to immediately let them up/put them down. Instead, soothingly massage and praise them (possibly with an occasional treat, as long as it doesn’t create excitement) until they seem to melt into your arms/the ground. When they have relaxed you can release them with a very mellow “okay.”   

LEARN HOW-TO:

 

IMPORTANT! – If during training you notice any extreme discomfort (like growling, biting, or excessive fear) stop and consult a professional trainer before continuing on. Training is supposed to be fun, not traumatic, so don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion if you have any questions or concerns.