I was at a Home Dog Training Session with in Woodstock last Thursday with a new client, his family, and one year old Blue Heeler named Cooter. Cooter was an active and rambunctious dog, and quite willing to learn and please. His big problems of jumping, stealing food from the table, and not listening were solved pretty quickly. We even had time to work on his pulling on the leash. Our client was very happy with the results and excited to start the ongoing training process with Cooter. As we were finishing up, he mentioned that this would be their first Christmas with Cooter. They has several house parties planned for the kids and the adults as well as out-of-town family members coming down from Chicago. Cooter still was a Blue Heeler and a little nuts, what were some ideas to keep him in control when all these other activities would be taking place?
I explained to my client that it is impossible to plan for every action or situation that might arise when going into the Holiday Season with Christmas and New Years. He was going to have parties that were for his kids and also for the adults. There will be different activities with different levels of adrenaline, festivities, etc. He was also going to have out-of-town guests for two weeks. They could do anything at any time. The bottom line I tried to emphasize was that he could not plan and train for every possible event. There were just too many things to worry about.
I then smiled and told him not to worry. In fact, he should’t start to worry about all the possible things that could happen. All of these future, external actions were secondary to what he needed to accomplish with Cooter. He needed to create a plan that took “whatever could happen” into account. That plan needed to be simple, consistent, and have the ability to immediately implement.
The lynch pin of our entire plan was something that we just reviewed in our lesson. He needs to have a proactive tool that will always allow him to teach and guide. Whatever the situation and whatever the problem, he needed to be prepared. The tool that I reminded him would lead to a successful Holiday Season was Cooter’s six-foot leash. He needed to have the leash on Cooter during the parties and all the time the guests are around. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, Cooter would simply be sitting or walking around with the leash dragging behind him. (We will get to that “point one percent of the time” in a minute.)
Next, I emphasized that he needed to do was to simply be a “good parent”. This means that as the parties were taking place or his house guests were moving about, he needed to keep watch of Cooter and Cooter’s focus. If he begins to see Cooter becoming adrenalized, agitated, aggressive, overly focused, or scared; he needed to take proactive action. This is something he needed to do before an inappropriate situation arises. (Think of your mother in the front seat of the car while you and your sister are in the back. All of a sudden, she swings around and exclaims “Don’t even think about it!”. How did she know you were about to hit your sister?)
When he sees the body these body language signals in Cooter, it indicates that he is preparing to act something out. He needs to immediately redirect Cooter’s attention back to him. Once he has Cooter’s focus, he needs to indicate that he is the boss and is keeping Cooter safe. What Cooter was about to do was inapproprate and unnecessary for Cooter’s safety, happiness, and well-being.
I instructed my client to calmly but swiftly approach the end of the leash. He needs to step on the leash, pick up the end of the leash, and calmly (but swiftly) walk Cooter in the opposite direction of whatever was initiating the problem. That may be a crazy kid jumping on the sofa (that will be dealt with separately and not part of dog training), someone turning up the volume on the music, food being served,etc. Once he and Cooter have moved away from the “issue”, he needs to calmly observe Cooter to see if he has calmed down and is giving him respectful focus. He can move farther and farther away from the problem until this occurs. Once Cooter is calm and completely focused on him, he can stop and ask Cooter to Sit.
Having Cooter sit once he is calm and focused on my client is important. This will indicate that whatever the problem was is no longer an issue. it also clearly shows that Cooter is obeying the commands from my client. This shows that Cooter is respecting my client as his caregiver and protector and is willing to follow his direction.
My client can now drop the leash. He can also continue to hold the leash, calmly walk back to the area where everything began, and then drop the leash.He should take care that whatever action or event that had triggered Cooter’s angst had been removed.
Next, I told my client that sometimes “things happen” and he won’t be able to see Cooter before he goes nuts and crazy. The leash is still there and will work. Even if Cooter is going nuts, the leash is still a very big target for his foot. Even if Cooter is running around, it is pretty easy to put his foot on the leash. As soon as this happens, he can follow the exact same steps I laid out earlier. He guides Cooter away until he is calm and focused, reestablish his leadership, and re-introduce Cooter back into the group.
I also wanted to discuss a specific safety issue with people coming in the door. This is a very adrenalized time for many dogs. Dogs, like Cooter, have a tenancy to rush the door, jump on people, and even run through the door to see what is going on outside. I suggested that he always have the leash in hand and his foot on the leash when there was “door activity”. This assured that Cooter would remain safe and start to show him that the door “really wan’t a big deal”.
I finally switched gears to a situation where there was so much going on that is became a sensory overload for Cooter. This could be the same thing as standing in the front row of a Grateful Dead Concert (showing my age). In both instances, the best solution is to move away.
When things are just too crazy or he doesn’t have the ability to keep an eye on Cooter, move him to a quieter part of the house. This could be a back bedroom or the basement. Assign someone to be with Cooter so the he can be focused on that person and not the fact that he isn’t with everyone else. Watch TV together, have dinner together, or play some inside games. This can be thought of as Cooter’s version of the “kiddie table”.
As long as my client showed Cooter that he was being kept safe, all would be fine. Since he couldn’t keep a holiday party or house guests stable and consistent, he had to keep his management of Cooter stable and consistent.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fourteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.