By Sean O’Shea
While many trainers and training approaches advocate for, and infuse their training with, excitement and high intensity, one of the things that we’re always focused on here at The Good Dog is working to train and create calmness.
Obviously if you’re training for a dog sport or some other kind of competition/performance you’re going to want lots of excitement/intensity, but for most family dogs, and especially those with serious behavior problems, calmness is absolutely key.
So much of what we do here – and what other trainers who are aware of the value of calmness do as well – is teach impulse control and relaxation. We use lots of anchoring behaviors with long durations, like “place” and downstays, as well as being sure dogs don’t pull on leash, don’t fly out of crates or doors, wait for food, and generally approach all things in a chilled out fashion…except of course playtime…which is when the dogs are allowed to let it all hang loose…as long as the “loose” is appropriate!
This calmness training is one of the biggest secrets to transforming problem behavior, and this style of training tends to be the opposite of most rewards-based training approaches, which tend to create a dog that is heavily excited/worked up…possibly listening to the trainer, but a dog that exists in an amped up state of mind that makes him challenging to live and work with. This is the one of the major reasons we don’t use treats/toys to train/rehab dogs. We want an easy, relaxed mind to work with…not an edgy, hyper food/toy-focused maniac.
That said, when I work with my girl Belle competing in flyball or doing tricks, I want her goosed up and crazy…that way she does everything in an intense, hyper-fast, hyper-focused fashion…but I would certainly not want that state of mind all the time!
One of the greatest side benefits of all this calmness training is, it creates a fantastic relationship of leadership with you and your dog. Once a dog understands you can control his behavior, it creates a new and improved perception of who you are and how he feels about his world.
And that is good stuff!