Calming Is the Key to Better Behavior
If attention is the Mother of all behavior—and it is!—then calmness is the Father. We need both in order to get the best behavior from our dogs. You may be surprised how easily problems improve or actually disappear when your dog feels calmer more and can focus on what you are asking. In this state of mind, they can handle themselves appropriately.
It's not disobedience when they just don't know how to cope with certain situations.
Calmness is even more important than attention, I believe, because your dog needs to be somewhat calm in order to focus on you—or at least split her attention between you and something more interesting or concerning to her. (This is not about Watch Me.)
Feeling excited, nervous, anxious, scared, frustrated, or upset for any reason makes it difficult-to-impossible to think rationally. We have experienced this ourselves, and dogs are no different. That's because emotions block thinking.
When our dogs are experiencing strong emotions, stress, and/or over-arousal, they behave instinctively. We cannot change that fact of nature. But we don’t have to just accept that behavior, and we certainly shouldn’t punish it. Helping them to overcome those feelings helps them to control themselves--and pay attention to your cues.
Wild Moments Are Not the Time for Training
We cannot teach anything when the limbic system takes over, when a dog is in that wild state of mind. That’s why it’s unreasonable and useless to try to send the message that extreme behaviors are “unacceptable,” as I’ve heard so many people say. You cannot “correct” behavior that isn’t even voluntary.
Positive training teaches dogs to make better behavior choices. But learning works best when they are calm enough to be in “the thinking zone.” That’s when they have the ability to process and absorb the lesson. Obviously, this is not possible in a tense, volatile real-life situation. That’s why positive trainers set up and practice with low-key simulations that make it possible for the dog to succeed incrementally.
Dogs with issues clearly need help to (1) stop spiraling out of control whenever they cannot cope with a situation, and (2) be in the zone where they can listen and learn what to do instead. The first step, as the experts always recommend, is to use management (barriers, etc.) or figure out how to stop putting them into those situations.
The TTouch Method
There are several natural ways to help calm dogs, to prevent them going over threshold, as well as to enable learning and dramatic changes. My favorite (surprise!) is the Tellington TTouch® method. TTouch quiets the mind and the body. With special touches (not massage), wraps, and movement TTouch influences behavior. This unique method has been extraordinarily effective for 40 years, all over the world, with all sorts of animals but mainly horses, dogs, and cats.
Sometimes I also use a Thundershirt (derived from the TTouch body wrap), calming music by Through a Dog’s Ear, essential oils by Young Living, and Bach flower essences formulated for various behavior issues by a certified dog behavior consultant.
Changing behavior often begins with changing how we think about a problem. Dog parents need to understand that certain undesirable behaviors are reflexive, not conscious choices. These behaviors often become worse over time. It just makes sense to focus on the underlying problem, not on the behavioral symptoms.
Let’s use proven techniques and tools that do no harm (unlike traditional obedience training) to help our dogs feel calmer. When they are relaxed, physically and mentally, they can learn to behave very differently, even in the presence of their triggers.
Copyright Lisa Benshoff 2017