Do you want to see the progress a dog has made in my training program? Here is an Albuquerque dog training case study with a one year old local dog that came to me for training.
Chaos - the Wild but Sweet Rebel
Meet Chaos. Chaos is a little over one year old and a pretty typical dog training client. He lives with his family in Albuquerque, NM and got adopted by them last year. As far as we know, he was running loose in the streets for a while before being picked up by animal control and posted for adoption.
He was lucky to find a family rather quickly. Even though he was living by himself on the street he was in great shape. His coat was soft and shiny and his overall condition was perfect. He had a healthy weight and was not fearful or reactive with people. He was perfect about only going potty outside (if you need more advice on that topic: Potty Training Your Puppy).
We believe that he had a very nice first home. It was evident that he is a dog who had had a good puppyhood with no negative experiences.
(Many dogs that go through rescue are not this lucky and start out at a very different point. If you adopted a rescue dog and he is far from where Chaos started out, don't worry. A lot of dogs adopted from shelters face issues such as reactivity, fearfulness or potty training problems. If this sounds like your dog, please don't take Chaos as a reference. He had his own journey and areas that he needed work on.)
I first met Chaos a few months ago. He is an incredibly sweet and calm dog inside the house - whoever owned him first must have trained this diligently, as his family tells me he came to them already like this. He will happily go inside his crate at any time (need tips on how to crate train? The Smart Way To Crate Training A Puppy will help), and is fantastic at lying in the sun and snoozing, or relaxing at his owners' feet when they sit on the couch.
(Want a dog who does the same? Check out 6 Steps To Make Your Dog Sleep On Cue)
As soon as I met him I was impressed by this calmness that is not at all typical for an adolescent dog.
Most commonly I meet dogs of his age and they are bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm. They are destructive, wild and at times bring their owners to tears with their unmanageable zest for life.
Again, Chaos differed from other dogs at similar ages and circumstances.
What was very typical however was his behavior outside the house and around motion.
The first problem- Motion Sensitivity
Many dogs can be very motion-sensitive. This especially applies to herding and hunting breeds. We bred them to notice and react to the slightest movement of prey or stock. This made them fantastic working companions, but in daily life it can pose problems.
I frequently encounter motion-sensitive dogs in my training. They are hyper-vigilant and are often constantly scanning their environment for any kind of activity.
Any type of moving object, person or animal will make them frantic, overly excited and elicit a chase response. They might bark or whine and race around after the moving item/person. While this is very common and normal it needs to be curbed through training.
Too many dogs have been injured or died chasing cars on the road or running onto the street after a squirrel. In Chaos's case, he reacted strongly to the motion of the children that lived in the family and their friends.
If issues like these are not addressed, they do not get better over time. Reacting to the motion and chasing are inherently rewarding for the dog. They are fun in and of themselves. The dog will not cease to pursue this kind of "free fun" unless we intervene. From his standpoint, it is a great way to entertain himself.
We must not underestimate the dog's extreme endurance in chasing either. Working herding and hunting dogs can work with their handlers for many hours or even full days. The dog will most likely never just "get tired" of chasing.
The other issue - Leash-Walking
Chaos also had problems walking on leash.
He would pull ahead with no regard for the person hanging onto the other end. If he wanted to go somewhere, he would go. This was enhanced by the motion-sensitivity mentioned above: If he saw something moving, he had to chase it. This made walks with him not very enjoyable and resulted in him not being walked as often as he could have - as it was hard to coordinate the kids, his reactivity to their motion and his tugging on the leash.
These are very common issues of many young dogs. Starting somewhere between the age of 3 to 6 months, most dogs develop insatiable energy and wish to explore their world. This energy needs to be managed and dealt with through appropriate exercise. But what is just as (or even more!) important is managing the dog's emotional state.
Puppies are like kids: They are not able to regulate their emotions very well. Just like a kid might throw a huge tantrum over not getting a piece of candy, puppies' emotions can run wild even in "boring" situations of daily life (such as a walk).
They are very excitable, and at the same time can have a hard time curbing this excitement and enthusiasm when it is time to wind down - resulting in overly exuberant dogs with unmanaged energy.
Not all Exhaustion is good
We often hear "A tired dog is a good dog", and while that might be true, it is not always enough to simply make the dog tired. We have to consider in which way we tire him out, and how this will affect his emotional state - not just the physical exercise counts, but also what goes on inside his head.
(Read more here: The Trouble With Excitement)
If a dog participates in high arousal exercise (this means exercise that excites him a lot, such as playing fetch or running with other dogs at the dog park), his body gets flooded with adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormone). It takes some time for these to wear off. They also often mask early signs of exhaustion, making our dogs go longer and harder than they would need to in order to be tired.
Coming home from the park after an hour long session of fetch, our dog might be overly tired physically but wound up too high mentally to take a break. He will also learn to enjoy the rush that comes from exertion and seek it again the next time.
Over time we create little exercise addicts that get fitter and fitter and need longer and harder exercise to get tired out. Our dog gets more driven, more motion-sensitive and less interested in calm, low-arousal activities such as taking a slow sniffing walk.
Chaos had learned how to regulate these emotions inside - he was a prime example of a dog who can relax marvelously in the house. Now it was time to take this skills to the outside world as well to make him an enjoyable companion on family walks.
The family and I met in Albuquerque for some dog training sessions, and eventually Chaos came out to my house in the mountains to spend a week with me and fine-tune his skills.
Before any formal training session, I would make sure that he was in a good mental state to start off with: We would take all the dogs to the fenced-in agility field and let them run there, then we did some sniffing to calm him down a little. Eventually I put a leash on him and we started training.
Here is a video of one of our first sessions:
You can see how overly aroused he was even after the activities we had done before to put him in the best possible mindset for training. You can also see my reaction to his wildness - instead of giving leash or verbal corrections and therefore making him even more wound up, I stay very calm and still and reward him for all feet on the ground. I deliver the treats in a manner that encourages the calmness: deliberately into his mouth. Dropping them on the ground or even tossing them might make him even more excited.
Again, young dogs are not always able to regulate their emotions. I am trying to regulate these emotions for him and therefore help him behave in an appropriate way.
He catches on pretty quickly, so quick that I in fact decide to test him a little by using his motion-sensitivity to induce some wildness. He shows how good he is already at switching between a wild and a calm state of mind, a skill that will be very useful (and necessary!) for him not only during dog training, but for life in general.
Chaos did short sessions several times a day with me, interspersed with a lot of low-arousal activities such as sniffing for his food, and a few short periods of high-arousal such as running with other dogs in an enclosed area. I made an effort to monitor and regulate his emotional state at every point of the day. Eventually a dog becomes accustomed to the switching between exciting and less exciting times during the day, and is able to switch all by himself between the times that require some excitement (such as playing fetch) and the ones that don't (such as taking a nice, quiet stroll around the neighborhood).
We can often see big improvements in their behavior already after a week of controlling their arousal state.
Here you can watch Chaos after spending one week with me:
He has learned very well that walking is a time of quietness and relaxation, just a relatively boring stroll that has nothing to get excited about. He also started to pay very nice attention to me and making eye contact. I was very happy that he decided to use his energy by giving me attention and focus instead of focusing on moving objects in the environment, or pulling on leash with all his might.
Once a dog has changed his mindset like this, we need to keep this newly found attitude towards walking. It is important to watch that old habits don't catch up with him and he reverts into the motion-sensitive, highly excited pulling. I recommend to treat walks as a dog training session for at least 1-2 months. Take cookies along, and reward the dog when he does well so that the new way of walking slowly overwrites the memory of the old one.
Chaos is going back home tomorrow. He learned a lot during his time here, and since he is still a young dog will need to be reminded of what he has learned often. He might have some more dog training sessions in Albuquerque to keep up the new good habits.
It important to consider a dog's emotional state when training, and how it might influence the behavior we see. Often, we need to change the involuntary underlying emotion before we can expect to see changes in the voluntary behavior such as pulling on leash.
Let me know if you need help with your puppy or adult dog - many issues can be solved quickly and effectively with the right approach.