Basic obedience is extremely important regardless of the dog’s age. It’s a great bonding tool for you and your dog, and it teaches the dog to listen to you as their leader who gives direction. Plus, if you do it right, the dog gets rewarded for it and they build a positive attitude towards you and participating in training.
These days we have a huge advantage with dogs. They’ve been bred for thousands of years to please us. Whether it’s a toy breed just being happy just to be on your lap, a working dog pulling sleds for you, a dog herding your livestock, or a Labrador retrieving things for you, they’re here to please their leader. They get joy out of it and that is truly amazing.
So how does this relate? Well, even with dogs who know the basics of training, I still get a lot of calls or emails about a dog that has issues calming down. Whether a dog is hyper, excited, anxious, frustrated, aggression, etc., the goal is to always have the dog become calm. In my 12+ years of training dogs professionally and the thousands of dogs I’ve worked with, I don’t get calls or emails about a dog that’s “too calm” very often!
That’s what it’s all about when training; having the dog practice being calm. If your dog knows to sit but their tail is still wagging and they are still excited when you reward them, then you’re teaching the dog that remaining excited is okay. This is often experienced when you practice teaching your dog to stay and the dog stays for two seconds but then moves. This happens because you haven’t taught the dog the most important thing after teaching a basic command; that is becoming calm.
If you’re trying to teach a dog to sit or to respond to another command for the first time, then it is effective to give rewards, affection, etc., when the dog follows the command to get the dog to learn the command. This is when it is acceptable to reward the behavior, only if the dog is catching on and responding to the command. However, once the dog has fully learned the command, then you need to practice having the dog become calm after following the command to fully master the training.
It is helpful to view everything on a level 1-10 scale. A level one dog is a dog that is super calm, relaxed and the perfect dog that you have no worries about. A level 10 dog is a dog that is so out of control that the only thing you can do is remove the dog from the situation to get the dog to calm down. If your dog is sitting for you but still wagging its tail and you reward that behavior, then you’re rewarding an excited state of mind and possibly a level-five excitement. A level-five excitement escalates to a ten much quicker than a level-one!!
What is great about this calming exercise is the dog ends up learning that they need to be calm in the future automatically. If you teach your dog to sit and then be calm, to stay and then be calm, down and then be calm, to come and then be calm, etc., then when you’re in a situation and your dog doesn’t know what to do and is acting excited, anxious, nervous, or something else, then your dog will more than likely start defaulting to being calm because that’s what they’ve been taught over and over in all the other exercises. This is when you can reward the calm behavior!
How amazing would it be for your dog to be excited, nervous, anxious, aggressive, or anything else and when you tell the dog to stop and they don’t know what exactly you mean or want, they just default to becoming calm? Well it can definitely happen! Just practice the calm exercise over and over and soon you’ll have a much more relaxed, happy and well-behaved dog!
As I’ve said before, a calm dog is a happy dog and a calm dog equals a happy dog owner!