The brain operates from two sides
- the limbic side and the cognitive side.
side is your emotional self.
The cognitive side is your thinking self.
Emotional reactions originate in the limbic part of the brain, which allows for fast-acting response to events based on quick impressions. Survival depends on quickness of response — allowing you to notice and duck when you catch a glimpse of a fast-moving object about to fall on your head.
Limbic over-rides cognitive. When an animal is in a state of adrenalin arousal from fear, defense, excitement or just plain sensory overload, he not only doesn't listen, he can't hear you. It does no good to repeat "sit sit sit" to a dog who is on emotional overload. He isn't thinking, he is simply reacting to the stimuli around him. He must tune-in and re-connect with you before he will be able to hear what you have to say. You must be able to get his attention first, before you tell him what you would like him to do.
"As a rule of thumb, the more excited and emotional a dog becomes, the less capable they are of thinking clearly and acting appropriately. (This is also true of all other animals, including people.) Wise handlers know that when emotions are running high, a cool down period is a good choice to avoid problems." - Suzanne Clothier
"HE DOES SO WELL AT HOME!
He gets to class or around other dogs or people and he loses his mind!"
The overstimulated dog bowls into class on its hind legs, his tongue hanging out, gasping for breath against a tight leash; It's the only way the dog's handler can keep the dog from running in full tilt into the face of another dog who might not be impressed or knocking over visitors who come to the home. This is quite normal behavior for young, inexperienced adolescent dogs and is almost expected of young, highly social breeds such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Yes, he's "just a puppy" but this doesn't mean that this "rudeness" can't be modified.
just wants to say "hi!"
order to modify your dog's behavior, you must first modify your own.
Before you start training, make sure your dog is well-exercised! A stir crazy under-exercised dog cannot help himself. A satisfied dog who's had a chance to stretch his legs and burn some energy will find it much easier to cope with training in stimulating environments.
"What I suggest is that you teach on/off games. Any time you are doing stimulating activities, stop and have her lie down till she shows a signal of relaxation (taking a deep breath, soft blink of the yes, opening the mouth in a relaxed way, less body tension, etc.) Then start the play again. At first you'll do more relax time than stimulating time. Set her up for success by not getting her TOO ramped up before trying to get her to settle till she gets better at controlling her excitement. What this teaches the dog is to be able to switch from hyped up to settled, from hind brain to front brain, reactive to thinking. The more it's practiced, the better the dog will get at making the switch quickly. And the dog won't need to physically wear him/herself out to make the switch. The dog will then understand HOW to calm themselves and "turn off" over excitement without needing to zoom, bite, bark, etc." - Chris Puls "Scoutdogs"
Self-control in the Presence of Other Animal or People
"Getting closer" to the exciting thing that gets him revved is rewarding.
For some dogs, jumping, leaping, barking, circling, spinning and pulling til they choke is also self-reinforcing. If the dog feels like the more he drags you or herds you, the closer he gets to the exciting animal or person, those behaviors are being rewarded and will not go away - they might very well increase.
So here's your plan:
A. As long as the dog behaves politely without becoming a raving lunatic, he will *get there*.
Here's the tricky part. You will need to be extremely alert to his body language. At the *first sign* that he has noticed the exciting thing, you will start rewarding for calm. When he takes in his breath, his ears prick, his eyes focus, his nose lifts - at that very moment, stop. Ask him to sit and reward him quietly for sitting, jackpot for giving you any attention at all. Then, only when he is calm, progress forward one or two steps at a time, stop/sit/reward, "let's go" a couple slow steps, stop/sit/reward.
Distance is your friend. Cross the street if you need to. Move in curves, not straight lines. Have a second person walk between him and the thing that interests him as a visual block. The instant the dog *starts* to get antsy, you will slow or ask him to sit. (Once he's lost his mind, there's no chance he's going to be able to sit or even hear you, the goal is to keep him thinking.) If he pulls, stop. At the FIRST whine, stop. If he barks, stop. (Make it a dramatic stop so it's obvious his behavior caused it.)
Reward self-control by moving slowly forward and keep quietly rewarding with your voice and treats. "Yes, good job, that's it - e-e-easy!" If he begins to lose his self control, he loses ground. Shoot backward - 5 yard penalty for charging. Turn him around so his back is to the exciting thing and limit how much leash length he has at that moment so he is in "time-out" and can't have any "fun" -no adrenalin frenzy. All that round and round, circling/spinning behavior is redirected frustration at not being able to get to the thing that excites him. You must keep the dog from 'spiralling up' and out of control.
B. Use rewards that are "good enough"
He may not be able to eat when he gets worked up, if so, forward progress, or distance if he's worried, is his reward. You may want to bring something "to die for" (like salmon or chicken livers or something extremely yummy and smelly) for these moments. When the exciting thing appears on the horizon, so do the livers, when the exciting thing is gone, so are the livers.
For the attention seeking missile, being noticed by the person he wanted to greet can be a powerful reward. The person should be instructed to ignore him totally (no looking or talking) until they hear you tell him "ok go say hi!" And then, they will only touch him IF he is sitting. They will sharply ignore any jumping up behavior.
If your dog isn't aggressive, just over-excited and you KNOW that the dog behind the fence is a reasonable sort and there won't be any aggressive "get away from my fence" behavior and it's near enough to the sidewalk that you can let them sniff noses through the fence, you could use that as your occasional reward for REALLY good self control.
Calm dogs get to go say hi. Most of the time he will be required to mind his own business. He only gets to say hi when he is looking at you for the "ok" because *you* have decided it's safe to do so, not because he dragged you there. (I would practice this heavily with dogs you know that don't send him over the edge and who you know will behave appropriately.)
C. Practice where you can control the "resource"
Practice with people you
know, dogs you know, kids you know, cats you know won't run. You can help a
strange cat (or stray dog) feel safe and un-threatened and you can even prevent
a strange cat from running by slowing down and moving in a broad curve away
from the cat. Maybe drop a treat or two on the sidewalk so your dog will look
away from the cat and sniff the ground. This will also calm an agitated dog
behind a fence. Be ever diligent in making sure that the process of the interaction
rewards only appropriate behaviors and that the interaction was positive and
safe. If you can't control the outcome, go down another block, or cross the
With plenty of practice your dog will be able to continue to think and listen and follow directions in the presence of exciting distractions!
Great article: Lowering
Arousal - How to Train Impulse Control
handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and
with full credit given:
© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People -
ditr_training @ hotmail.com - http://www.diamondsintheruff.com