I am seeing quite a number of clients who are new to dog ownership. To a person, they are committed and desperate to do the very best they can for their new pet. However, many of these owners also have one thing in common and that is a stated desire to provide their dogs with lots of “stimulation”. Quite frequently, these same owners berate themselves for not providing enough of the “s” word and view this lack as the most likely source of whatever problems they are having with their dog.
Yes, dogs do need suitable outlets for whatever working drives they come genetically primed with…up to a point. Designer breeds are no exception, a fair few may have a double whammy on the genetic front, picking up on working traits from whatever purebreds have gone into their development. For instance, many cockapoos have a strong dose of working cocker behind them. However, to be realistic, we are not going to train our cockapoo to flush, quarter or pick up in the field. Instead, we use selective training and structured games to satisfy some of the dog’s innate drive.
All this is very different from giving our pet freedom to enjoy stimulation all day long. Like a fractious over-tired toddler, an over-stimulated dog can be extremely trying. The most difficult time is at adolescence when the animal is already hyped up on hormones, primed to push the envelope and almost incapable of self-regulation. It easy to think that the fix is more stimulation to tire the dog out. Loads of hard exercise may indeed cause the dog to eventually collapse in an exhausted heap, much to everyone’s relief; but nothing of use is being learned. Dogs in a ‘boom and bust’ cycle of inability to settle and then hours of exercise or, worse, play-fighting with other dogs, are not learning to switch off.
Rest and calm are the keys to healthy development, both mental and physical. It is essential that young dogs are given enough stimulation to enjoy life but equally important is developing an off switch and it will pay lifelong dividends. Calm dogs sleep more and consequently learn more too.
If you have not taught your dog the importance of calm behaviour, try this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wesm2OpE_2c.
Many dogs will also benefit from a simple strategy known as ‘Learn to Earn’. Quite simply, this programme teaches your dog that although he can get the good stuff from you, whether food, play or cuddles, in return he must first exhibit behaviour you like. All we ask is that the dog exhibits calm behaviour or a polite “sit” in order to get the things he values. This can be surprisingly effective in beginning to teach the dog to slow down and take a beat, learning that calm behaviour gets him access to his favourite things. It also introduces greater structure to interactions throughout the day and gradually the dog learns to accept that if you are not available for interaction and with nothing else to do, he may as well sleep.
Of course, within the context of ‘Learn to Earn’ it is vital the dog knows that there will be quality time set aside for him, involving adequate structured exercise, training and play. Outside of this, instead of being in a perpetual state of anticipatory high alert, your dog learns to switch off.
Leonie St Clair | www.londondogstraining.co.uk