wild thing: helping overexcited pets calm down
What do you do with a dog who just won’t settle down? The dog who jumps all over when a friend arrives at the house, or the pup at the picnic who constantly pesters you to throw the Frisbee? I think that at some point in our lives, we have all dealt with dogs that get overexcited. For those persistently pesky dogs and their parents, I offer some advice on settling.
Characteristics we look for in pets, like being playful or high energy, can turn downright annoying if they’re never turned off. They can ruin doggy play dates and have houseguests longing for the peace and quiet of their own homes. Of course, good manners should be taught from the day your adorable puppy enters your home. By teaching your puppy how you want him to behave, you’ll limit the trouble of having to teach him what NOT to do later in life.
Sign up for a training class when your dog is still young. But it’s not too late if your dog is already an adult. Training classes are not only for teaching your dog – they’re for teaching you how to teach your dog. They also establish you as the leader, someone your dog needs to respect. Start by looking for basic training classes that teach obedience commands like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” “come,” and “settle.” Once these commands are mastered, you can move on to more advanced work, but these basic tools are the ones that will see you through the wild dog moments.
Nothing is free
Many of the undesirable behaviors our dogs display are unknowingly encouraged by us, either as their owners or as their friends. That’s because many of these "wild dog" behaviors are done for attention. For dogs, any attention is good attention. When you try to correct your dog by pulling him down from jumping on your friend, he considers it attention. His attention-seeking behavior has succeeded, and now he knows he should try it again the next time a friend comes to visit.
It turns out that much of managing a wild dog’s behaviors comes down to managing the humans in your dog’s life (including yourself). If there is a behavior that is undesired, it is best to ignore it and have your friends do the same. Dogs who jump on people, for instance, are seeking attention, so it’s important to not oblige them. Tell your friends to never pet your dog while he’s standing on his hind legs. While your dog is jumping, your friend should completely ignore him. No eye contact, no verbal correction, no nothing. Don’t punish or scold your dog. After all, he is being friendly. We want him to continue to be friendly to humans, albeit in a more appropriate way.
The same thing applies to other wild behaviors. Only when the dog is settled quietly should he get what he wants. In our line of work, we call this “nothing in life is free.” If your dog wants to eat, he sits quietly first. If he wants to play, he sits quietly first. If he wants to go outside, he sits quietly first. You get the picture. In this way, he is rewarded for his good behavior.
Walk With Me
Here’s another example: the dog who gets all wound up when he sees that he’s about to be taken for a walk. These dogs can be so boisterous that it’s nearly impossible to get a leash attached to them. This is clearly an undesired behavior that should not be indulged. Instead, put your dog in a “sit.” Once he’s sitting quietly, try attaching the leash. If he gets wild again at the sight of the leash, start over again by having him sit. This, like retraining all undesired behaviors, will require lots of patience - but the reward of a calm dog is well worth it.
Pulling on the lead, being pushy about play time or meal time, persistent barking, and being crazy in the car are all perfect examples of wild dog behavior. Remember- make your dog work for his rewards and you’ll find these behaviors starting to diminish. When all else fails, in the middle of a rambunctious outburst, try freezing in place. This action often makes your dog stop out of curiosity. Once you’ve got his attention, unfreeze and give him his command.
Calm dogs live with calm owners; never make a big deal about coming or going. Greeting your pet with high pitched, excited tones when you get home will only serve to encourage his wild, wild ways. Keep everyone in the house calm, and your relaxed attitude will soon rub off on your four-legged friend!