Can you truly teach a dog to be calm?

My perspective on helping dogs behave in a calm fashion may be different than how others address it.

That's because, in my opinion, the emotion of "calm" is not something you teach operantly (dog is aware that they are learning) as much as "acquire" through classical conditioning and specific environmental associations.

"Calm" is an emotional state that results naturally from several things:

  1. Providing your dog with adequate physical exercise to satiate the body
  2. Providing your dog with adequate mental stimulation to satiate the brain
  3. A temperament that is stable and unstressed
  4. Classically conditioning your dog to feel the emotion of "calm" in various places

For example, how I "feel" in a church is different than how I feel at a rock concert, because I have developed different associations with those two places. Your dog needs to see your house as more of a church while the backyard might remain the favored rock concert.

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It's a Puppy, Not a Problem

Left to their own devices, what do puppies like to do?

They like to bark, play, run through the house (sometimes with muddy feet), jump on people, put things in their mouths and chew on them, eat tasty foods, explore, sniff things, dig holes in mud and sand and dirt, and a host of other things that I don't have time to mention. They do these things because they are baby dogs. Fortunately we can train our dogs to show more appropriate behaviors, but it takes time and the natural outcome of maturity. Puppies are a challenge.

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Understanding Hyperawareness: What Happened When I Showered with a Spider

Today I took a shower with a spider.

It wasn't like I volunteered for this; I hopped in and was well along in the process of getting clean before I saw it in the shower pan. And this wasn't a tiny spider – it was a big one. I'd' say 3″ around or so.

Ok. Maybe it was closer to 1″, including the legs. But it FELT like 3″ when I realized that I was not alone.

I'm not afraid of spiders but I also do not choose to take showers with them. I was particularly unthrilled about the thought of one crawling on me when I shut my eyes to rinse my hair. But I could manage, and anyone watching would not have been aware of the turmoil going on inside of my mind as I kept half an eye on that spider and the rest of my brain on getting done with my shower.

And then my husband unexpectedly opened the bathroom door. I startled, screamed, and am quite lucky I didn't go through the glass.

What happened?

My husband has seen me shower before- after 20 years we're well past any issues there. And I had been showering with that spider for a couple of minutes already so that wouldn't have caused my reaction. But in my hyper aware state I seriously overreacted, likely risking my health a good deal more than anything that spider could have thought up to do to me.

When we are agitated, we are hyper aware. That internal state of awareness may or may not show on the outside, but the effort to continue on in a normal fashion absorbs most of our capacity.

Now let's talk about dogs.

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Management, Training and Maintenance, Part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, I discussed management, training and the intersection of the two. Now let's turn our attention to the concept of maintenance.

Behaviors that I am maintaining are well trained, well understood, and have moved into the realm of habit.

Here's how that works:

After I have called my puppy into the house hundreds of times, and I have backed up her good responses with a cookie and my genuine praise, then I will stop rewarding most of her responses with a cookie and I'll offer only praise or a life reward (to be discussed in a further blog post). People often ask me how I know when it's time to start reducing reinforcement and the answer is relatively simple:

When I am no longer impressed by the good behavior. 

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Management, Training and Maintenance Part 1

I'll refer to these terms over time, so it might help if you have some idea what I'm talking about.

When I talk about management, I'm talking about preventing your puppy or dog from rehearsing bad behaviors, either while you decide to start training or until she outgrows whatever misbehavior is currently expressing itself or….forever, if that is your choice.

Management may involve applying external controls to the dog, or it may mean structuring the environment.

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Teaching Better Greetings: What to do if Your Dog is Jumping on People

Let's talk about jumping up on people.

First, let's consider the dog's point of view. If your dog does manage to keep four feet on the floor, they might not be noticed! They cannot express their excitement at your presence! In contrast, if they jump on you, they will get noticed, whether you appreciate that or not. Sometimes any attention is better than no attention at all, so let this be a generic piece of advice: train your eye (and your response) to notice what goes right with your dog rather than focusing on what goes wrong.

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Is Silence Disconnect? Introducing Silence to Obedience Work

 A student recently asked how to introduce silence into her obedience work without her dog feeling punished. As a long-time obedience competitor, I do not consider silence to be punishing, but it does appear that some people see it that way. Where is the confusion coming from?

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Welcome to the New FDSA Blog!

Welcome to FDSA's shiny new blog! We look forward to having you look around. But probably hold off on your look-around, because if you do it now, your journey will be short. That's because there's nothing here. Yet! You see, getting this new website up and running was a bit of a project and it took all hands on deck. That didn't leave much time or ...
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