By Sean O’Shea
In the world of training and rehab work, few things have such a profound impact and cause such profound transformations in dogs as does duration Place and Down commands.
Because this all appears so deceptively simple, and it’s not exactly action packed, it’s easy to dismiss the incredible value and impact duration work can have on all manner of canine behavioral issues.
Let me see if I can help explain what’s really going on behind this exercise. Most dogs live in a state of almost constant reactivity and alertness to all stimuli in their environment. The bicyclist, the skateboarder, the mailman, the squirrels in the yard, the construction across the street, the neighbor kids running around and playing out front, the family kids running around and playing inside, the dog next door barking and beckoning, and on and on. All of these goings-on cause our dogs to be constantly on edge, tense, concerned, worried, wound up, and freaked out. It’s akin to your dog being an overworked stock broker working on the floor of the NY stock exchange – overstimulated, and stressed out. And the more fundamentally nervous/insecure your dog is the more susceptible and vulnerable he/she will be to these stressors.
And here’s the thing, just like us, when stress in an ongoing, never ending merry-go-round, behavior issues are bound to develop. For us, it might be excessive drinking or eating to cope, or just general irritability, unhappiness, and anxiety – we snap at our kids or spouse or co-workers. For our dogs, they too will attempt to cope, they will attempt to turn off the noise and discomfort – but their approach – barking, fence fighting, chasing, biting, nervousness, obsessive behavior, will only make them worse.
But just in time, in comes duration work!
With duration work we’re actually patterning our dogs not to care about all the noise in the world. We’re desensitizing them and conditioning them to disregard and let it all go.
How can duration Place and Down create this? It only works when these commands are trained to be completely non-negotiable. Once these commands are solid enough, and our dogs learn that pushing against them doesn’t get them anywhere, they will finally relax and surrender into the exercise. This takes patience, repetition, and almost always corrections to be able to override the more intense emotional state. The training will actually begin to override our dog’s knee-jerk desire to respond to whatever is provoking or making them exited or uncomfortable.
When we train properly, we actually teach our dogs to prioritize our requests over their initial impulses, and over time, the training and patterning will cause the actual emotional feeling that originally was paired with the stimulus in the environment to change. Your dog will actually start to not care or worry or be stimulated about many things he cared, worried, and was intensely stimulated by.
We like to refer to duration work as enforced meditation. And if you think about meditation for humans, it’s goals are virtually the same: to teach your mind to disregard the incessant noise of your thoughts, and simply let them appear with no reaction, and then disappear, leaving you relaxed and calm and peaceful. We’re looking for the same effect on our dogs. We want them to hear or see what originally bothered or excited them, and let it simply occur without them feeling the need (or initially the ability) to react to it. By conditioning this over and over, we teach our dogs to be relaxed observers of their world rather than stressed participants to all of it.
Over time, through duration work, and other training, we condition our dogs to exist at a much lower stress baseline in general – and when your dog is relaxed and less stressed in general, he will make much better decisions – even without your help or guidance. And that my friends is the promised land!
I know it seems to good to be true, and far too simple to have such a profound effect on your dog’s life, but take it from someone who works with highly anxious, highly stressed, severely dog-reactive, dog aggressive, and human aggressive dogs constantly, it’s an absolute game changer and godsend. But remember, the magic only happens when the commands are 100% non-negotiable, non-flexible, and the dog completely surrenders and relaxes into the exercise – eventually even in the face of intense triggers.
So give it a shot, and let me know what kind of results you get. I think you’ll be amazed at what this simple exercise will give your dog.
P.S. If you would like to get a start on duration work, here is a link to our free how-to Place command video:
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