Less Affection Is the Key

Dog Training Cat Tip of the Day: I know we've all heard the term "let sleeping dogs lie" - the idea to not disturb a dog while it is resting, because you could startle them and when they awaken potentially bite you. Makes sense, right?

Well, can we also make a new saying "leave relaxed dogs alone" - that when a dog is in a mellow, calm, and comfortable state we don't constantly touch or pet them? I know that seems a little counterintuitive, especially if you've been told to "reward the mindset you want with praise." To be clear, this doesn't means ANYTIME your dog is calm, never pet them ever. What it means though, is that as a whole humans over praise and pet their dogs a lot, often creating a very overstimulated dog! Have you ever been tickled until you can't breathe? That's how a lot of people pet their dogs - they pet them until they get a rise out of them in the form of licking, wagging tail, whining, wiggles, or even jumping up...to many dogs, human touch means it's time to have a mental/emotional meltdown!

During training we spend a lot of time giving feedback to our dog (food, praise, verbal marker) that we like the behavior they just did...and that's super important! However, when you are working on more than just tricks or obedience commands, and you're using dog training as a gateway to having a calm family dog who isn't stressed or constantly hyper-aroused in your home, constantly petting and praising the dog is most likely not helping your cause.

Truthfully, most dogs struggle to become relaxed (due to the patterning of high arousal/stress/excitement that they are used to exhibitng at home or with you), and when they finally rest and put their head down/close their eyes, a person rushes over immediately with some verbal and physical praise. This almost immediately removes the dog from the mellow, calm state they've finally touched, and puts them into a more alert mental space (waggy tail, whining, licking, pawing, panting, constantly trying to get your attention, shaking). So, in the end, the praise is actually hurting your dog's progress more than helping!

We want the dog to know they are doing a good job, by finding the self satisfaction of a calm mind and relaxed body - acheiving a reward on their own. That feeling of relief, we can't give to them with treats or praise - that's something they have to find themselves. However, the work you are doing training them is a HUGE part of a dog finding their "zen," because you are the one encouraging them to do place command or down/stay durstion work in the first place :) They'd never slow down if you don't give them that first command, so you are a very important part of this process - calm the mind and the body will follow!

This doesn't mean you're never allowed to pet your calm dog, by the way. It's just for now :) It's for weeks, months, or however long it takes for your dog to start automatically go in "mushy mellow" mode when they lay in a Place or Down Command, and most importsntly it's when your touch doesn't take them from 1 to 100 on the arousal scale. How long will it take for your dog to achieve that? I'm not sure because it's different for everyone, but the best way to get there is by giving your dog some time to make their own calm, relaxed, endorphin-releasing mental happiness via duration work meditation :)

....and in a much simpler form, straight from the cat's mouth: Control yourself human, and quit petting your dog who has finally calmed down! 🐈-Cenicero, #dogtrainingcat