Have you ever tried to talk your excited and over-aroused dog into calming down?
How did that work for you?
Not too well, I’m guessing!
When your puppy or your grown-up dog is all wired up and bouncing around like a kid on a trampoline, words just don’t make much of an impression.
Unless you talk louder and gesture a lot – then your dog figures you’re excited too! And that fires up his excitement even more!
It’s a feedback loop – your excitement feeds your dog’s excitement, and so on…
There are better ways to help an over-aroused dog to calm down and all of them involve you modeling calmness so your dog can mirror your actions. We know that our dogs tune-in to our emotions. So take a deep breath and be a model of calm confidence.
However, that’s only the first step.
What comes next is the “secret sauce”.
One of my favorite ways to help an over-aroused dog settle down is to ask him to think. Give him a mental task that has attractive rewards that will motivate him to make the shift from physical to mental activity. Dogs do only one thing at a time.
Here’s why this works:
Mental exercise uses up more energy than physical exercise.
Mental exercise can take the form of a game or solving a problem. The more training you have done with your dog, the more options you have to get your dog mentally engaged in an activity.
One thing I like to do is give the dog a random series of verbal cues so that he must pay attention and respond quickly to earn his reward.
For example, it might go like this: “Down, Get It (treat toss), Sit, Release, Down (signal or verbal), Come, (Hand target visual) Get It…” etc. Make it fun and praise each successful response. Ignore unsuccessful responses and move on quickly. Get some momentum going. Set up a positive give-and-take feedback loop.
When you do a sequence like this rapidly, the dog’s excitement becomes focused and manageable. He’s working for you now! You can employ any cues that your dog will respond to reliably. This is exactly why dogs with more training are easier to manage.
The great thing about this strategy is that you can accomplish a lot in a very short time. That’s because you are not suppressing your dog’s excitement. You are redirecting it to activity that’s productive and enjoyable for you both!
So the next time you want to calm down your over-aroused dog, think before you act. Then ask your dog to do the same!