“You’ve got to help me. My dog is out of control!” That’s the plea I heard from a nice lady in one of my group classes. She was speaking about her 18 month old male Pointer cross who she brought to class.
“He’s just so wild. He gets these energy spurts all the time and runs around the house hurdling chairs, the couch and sometimes the coffee table. I’m at my wit’s end with this out of control dog! I can’t relax after being at work all day!” She did say that he had a softer side and she would definitely like to see more of it.
Does your dog have a “wild side?” Is he out of control with a mind of his own? Would you like to see less of the wild and crazy side so that you can enjoy his softer side?
Causes for wild and crazy behavior
There are many underlying reasons for such bad dog behavior. Some are genetic and some are environmental while others are a result of your interactions with your dog or lack thereof. Some behaviors are the result of medical conditions that may need veterinary intervention.
I wanted to list a few (not all) of the non-medical reasons that you or other family members may not even think are causing your dog’s “hyper” or crazy activity. I see some of these every day I do home lessons. Let’s see if you can recognize any of the following contributing factors that might be causing your dog to be out of control. You might really be surprised!
Not enough exercise: If your dog is blowing off steam or energy because he doesn’t get walked frequently enough or long enough on each walk – that creates crazy.
Lack of mental stimulation: Except for mealtimes when your dog does his sits and downs for his food (you are requiring your dog to earn his food aren’t you?) Remember “Nothing in life is free?” there’s nothing in between mealtimes to stimulate your dog’s mind. His food is gone in 60 seconds – game over!
There are Kongs with frozen stuffing, Buster Cubes with kibble and dozens more interesting doggie puzzles (can be found on Google) to make your dog earn part of his food during the day. Divide his food out. One third of his daily ration he gets in the morning by doing sits and downs. On third he gets in the evening meal and the final one third he has to earn by figuring out how get it out of two or three different doggie puzzles left for him to work on. Make him really earn his food. It can be mentally exhausting for your dog. That’s good! Did I mention dog obedience training? Three, 2 minute training sessions daily of come, sit and down can do the trick as well!
Lack of respect for your dog’s boundaries: Imagine you have crawled into bed with a good book and your children stream into your room and ask you to do things. It would be difficult at best to relax and enjoy your self time, right?
If your dog is trying in his own way to enjoy a nap and kids are invading his space, patting him on the head, picking him up or great belly rubs because it feels good to them, he can’t relax in your presence.
This type of constant activity with the dog does not “promote” good relaxation habits.
Sudden changes in a dog’s life: This is all about changes that add to your dog’s instability like new wife, baby, girl friend, boy friend, kids that have bonded with your dog go off to college, death, divorce or even vacations away from your dog. These can all affect your dog’s instability creating wild and crazy behavior.
Diet: Your dog’s diet is important. Are you feeding your dog a high quality dog food? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with who have been feeding their dogs food filled with cheap carbohydrates (turns to sugar). Once they switch their dog’s food to a premium dog food, a calmer dog can often times be seen in the course of a week to 10 days. And change his diet if necessary.
Social Pressure from you for your dog to behave normal: Have you had dogs before that were the perfect dog? I know I have. And we all tend to compare our new dog to our previous “angel” dogs – our perfect ones. When your new dog doesn’t “match up” or act right some times you get down right mad. Your dog’s bad behavior can be frustrating and at times even embarrassing – especially when you have house guests over. No one wants to be around a misfit dog. Do you find that it’s hard to separate your personal feelings from your corrections given to your dog?
I think it’s important for you to know that your dog didn’t choose to be wild and crazy. In fact it would be much easier for him if you understood why he is acting this way, then train him and teach him to relax. Then enjoy your relationship with your dog.
How do you teach your dog to relax?
You want to teach your dog to calm down and relax instead of engaging in wild play. Reward the behavior you prefer when you see your dog doing that behavior.
Here’s what you’ll need.
- A 6’ leash
- A mat (similar to a kitchen mat) with a rubber backing sized for your dog and,
- Food treats or part of his daily rations (depending on how food motivated your dog is). You don’t want him to get fat! I will say that at least initially the treats should be higher in value than his kibble.
Here’s what you’ll do.
- Put your dog in the back yard or another room while you set things up.
- Place the mat next to your chair or sofa where you will be sitting.
- Place food treats on the mat. Be generous and put down 6-8 treats!
- Go get your dog and bring him to the mat.
- Before you sit down, put your foot on the leash to give him enough slack to move some but not off the mat.
- Sit down as you say the word, “Settle.” It’s to be spoken softly one time only. After that do not look at, talk to or touch your dog.
- Once your dog has eaten all the treats, begin to praise/click and drop one treat at a time on the mat. Why would you be giving your dog more treats? You are rewarding any behavior he is doing that is not his wild and crazy behavior! Randomize your rewards – space them out.
- Do not reward your dog for looking at you. You don’t want to teach him that he can cause you to treat him by looking at you. Treat for sniffing the mat or doing anything else but wild and crazy behavior.
- Reward your dog for lying down and eventually relaxing with one hip rolled over.
- Add distractions like a squeaky toy or tennis ball or other favorite toy.
- Change locations. Move to other rooms and eventually practice out on the patio.
- Keep your training sessions to 15-20 minutes then release your dog.
As you see improvement and a more relaxed dog, begin to extend the time on the mat. Later begin to put the mat further away from where you are seated, click/praise and treat when he makes a decision to lie on the mat of his own accord.
Eventually wean your dog off food treats but continue to praise for good behavior.
Remember that this takes time and patience. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results if you keep at it. Soon you will be brave enough to take your well-mannered dog to Starbucks because he can SETTLE.
Please comment below and tell us how you help calm your dog
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Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients. Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years. One of his clients says it best: There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant. Jane Wagner