Monday, September 27, 2010
As you are walking along your dog spies a stranger in the distance and gives a quick glance up at you, before returning her gaze back to the stranger. Aroused by what could be a potential threat or playmate, your dog looks to you for guidance. Most people don't realize this and ignore the dog. So having received no information from you, your dog is left to make a choice as to how to respond. If your dog is at all anxious about people she might decide that barking is the appropriate response, or if happy to greet people she begins to work herself into a frenzy to 'say hello'. Your attempts to control her at this point are futile, she's too excited.
Be on the look out for these two behaviors:
Checking in. Watch your dog, notice how often she looks at you. This may be direct eye contact or a slight turn of the head and sometimes just a quick flick of the ears toward you. Pay attention when your dog stops moving and seems to wait for you to move before continuing on herself. Your dog is 'checking in' with you, essentially waiting for or looking for more information from you. Let your dog know that you are aware of this connection with praise, a treat, and a cue as to how to proceed (even if it's just "forward" or "walk"). Do this whenever you notice your dog checking in with you, but the key is for you to begin looking for these check-in behaviors and acknowledging them.
Default behaviors. Many dogs have learned that by performing a particular behavior, they get something they want. This 'default' behavior can be a sit, down, or check-in. Most often dogs learn to sit for dinner, treats or going out the door. Some dogs may need to be taught this behavior while others figure it out on their own. Before feeding your dog, tossing or tugging a toy, opening a door, or any of the other daily interactions you have with your dog which involves providing them with something they need or want, wait for your dog to offer the desired behavior, or ask for the behavior if they need help in understanding that 'sitting' makes things happen. This behavior will become one which will be easier for your dog to perform when they are aroused or distracted.
Next time your dog spies something of concern or interest she can be assured that you have a plan of action and all she needs to do is check-in to get that information from you. In Behavior Training, the dogs learn many things that could all be turned into default behaviors depending on the situation. Sit for food, treats, petting, greeting. Look at That for seeing something nearby that may be worrisome, Touch That for things that at first seem scary or dangerous, reorienting at thresholds, and Not Now for when you just want to keep moving.
Use these behaviors often, especially when you're dog does check in with you.