Doggy Training

From Frantic to Focused: Four top tips to calm your dog down

Do you own a fizzy dog? The kind of dog that spots something exciting and goes completely deaf? Or maybe they are spinning, lunging, barking at the end of the lead because they just HAVE to get across and chase that squirrel / dog / person / leaf?!

It can be super frustrating, particularly when you KNOW that the thing you are asking your dog to do, they could usually do with their eyes shut! Actually, they would probably do it better if they kept their eyes shut…

If your dog has got to the point that they are behaving this way and everything you say falls on deaf ears, they are likely over threshold. This means that they are way to worked up to be thinking rationally and are usually acting entirely on impulse.

So, it’s our job to bring them back down again so that they can start to use the thinking portion of their brain.

Read on to find out how…

Space: A dog’s threshold can sometimes be imagined as an invisible bubble around the distraction – when your dog crosses into this bubble they begin to lose control. Sometimes, the quickest way to bring them back down again is creating more space from whatever is winding them up.

Move away and keep an eye on your dog. When they get to the point that they may be alert, but no longer reacting and looking slightly more relaxed, that is your cue that they are able to think slightly more rationally again.

Sniffing: Once you are far enough away from the trigger than your dog isn’t tying you in knots anymore, encourage some relaxation. The best way to do this is to encourage sniffing of some kind – a scatter feed works well. Use some grass if you can; the kind of sniffing we want to aim for involves your dog sounding something like a little piggy, rooting around to find their treasure. Sniffing releases dopamine which will aid in calming your dog and making them feel more secure.

Don’t nag: It is natural to panic slightly when our dogs start to behave in this way. Particularly if we are in a busy area; it’s embarrassing! With this panic often comes a lot of nagging from owners… ‘Fido come! Fido look! Watch me! Sit. Sit. No. Sit!’. We’ve all been there.

However, your dog already has SO much stimulation that there is a risk your voice will turn into white noise in the background. Try to stay quiet, and utilise a marker word (if you use one) or a well-timed reward to tell them when they do something right, such as turn away from the trigger or glance up at you.

Freedom: This one feels counter intuitive but bear with me. When we are desperately trying to get our dogs to focus on us, it seems sensible to give them less freedom, and this usually comes in the form of reining them in or holding tight to the lead. For the dogs that are fizzy because they want to get somewhere else, being physically restrained is the most frustrating thing in the WORLD.

As soon as you feel safe to do so, letting the lead go slack and leaving your dog free to make their own choices can be instrumental in calming them. It also provides us valuable information – if they are immediately back to barking and spinning, you are not blow their threshold yet!