If you read my previous post about my new puppy Casey, you’ll know that he is starting from ground zero in terms of knowing anything. So, where do you start? From my perspective, he can’t learn anything at all until he learns to relax instead of instantly reacting to something new, and begins to focus on me when asked. Dogs needs to be calm before they can learn anything. That’s where we’re starting with him. And adding in tiny introductions to a bit of this and a bit of that as we go along.
So how do you begin to teach an excited 10-month old high energy dog to calm down, relax, and focus on you when their entire world is brand new and exciting? How do you even begin to get their attention? Casey does exactly what the dog in this picture does when he sees a person, a bird, a squirrel, or anything that moves. It’s an instantaneous leap straight into the air with squeals of delight.
It’s easier to demonstrate than explain, but here’s how I’m doing it with Casey.
- He’s on an adjustable 4-6 foot leash with a martingale collar. We start with the 4 foot length so he’s within easy reach.
- He can’t get out of the car until he’s calm. We just stand there with him in the car until he relaxes. Doing this sets him up to be less instantly reactive when he sees that next new thing
- We start walking slowly.
- The instant he starts to pull, I get his attention and bring him close, and then slowly and calmly stroke his chest, ears, chin, or back with slow strokes until he relaxes. I repeat the word “settle” to him so that he begins to learn that settle means relax. Eventually, I’ll be able to just say “settle” to him and he’ll calm down.
- Then we move again and repeat as needed (which is very, very often at first)
It can take a long time to go for a walk doing it this way for the first few days, but it’s important to take the time right out of the gate. Already, in two days, there is far less leash pulling and we can go a little bit farther every walk before something triggers for him.
To illustrate how well this works, consider this: He knew nothing about being on a leash, has never been in an urban environment, and is puppy excited about everything new. On the first day, he was lunging, leaping, running in circles, and had the attention span of a flea. By today, a mere 3 days later, he is much calmer, less reactive, and is spending less time frustrated because he can’t go explore that shiny new thing. He is slowly learning to calmly observe something without the need to race towards it.
We’re a long way from where he needs to be, but he has already come a long way.