If it sounds too good to be true…
With a nod to cheesey Internet marketers everywhere, I am actually going to describe one simple trick you can start doing today, without any special equipment, that will begin to help and unravel your dog’s anxieties. And no, you don’t have to buy my video series before you get to see it 🙂
For the last couple of weeks I have been talking about why we have a rising incidence of anxiety disorders in suburban dogs. Today I’m starting with the light at the end of that tunnel. You all deserve happy dogs, and your ever-loving pooches most certainly deserve your best efforts to help them be happier!
Brenda Aloff, dog aggression expert, calls it the Zen sit and down-stay. I call it the center of all dog training – and the most important example of an indefinite command. However, all it really is is teaching your dog to stay. But any time – any where – and for any length of time. It helps dogs develop impulse and frustration control. Any dog that can stay in one spot indefinitely when told to has no anxiety. More importantly, the down-stay is a powerful tool to treat the underlying causes of most canine anxieties.
Really? Just teaching stay?
Most dogs lack impulse control, and most dogs lack frustration control. What are these things? Ever had a dog bark in the kitchen? Scratch paint or fly-wire off a door? Maybe destroy an outside cushion while you were away? These are all classic examples of poor impulse and/or frustration control. Teaching stay directly develops these abilities in a dog. As your dog learns first to sit, then to drop, and then to stay – as you get further and further away, it learns self-reliance. When a dog is sitting, enrolled in the concept of staying just a little bit longer before the reward of return is provided, it starts to almost become meditative. The dog relaxes progressively the longer it learns to stay.
The nuts and bolts of teaching these behaviours are beyond the scope of this post and have been covered exceptionally well on YouTube and elsewhere – there are links at the bottom this page. However, when you have your dog at the stage where there is a pretty reliable stay of 1 minute or so inside the house you are ready to start using this as therapy. Progressively and consistently spending just 5 or 10 minutes a day, every day, you can work on quiet stays closer and closer to your dog’s own trouble zones. For separation anxiety it couldn’t be simpler. In this case the trouble zone is simply you going away! So it matters less where you do it, and more how long and how completely out of sight you are. For the fence barking anxious dog, you’ll be getting closer and closer to the fence when there are people going past. For the dog aggressive dog you’ll be down the end of the oval far from the other dogs, but getting closer every time. And for Sally who commented before – barking car travelers can be brought steadily on board the car in your driveway or carport.
As an anxiety treatment you can take this a step further by requiring that your dog lie down for the stay. Laying down puts gentle pressure on the chest and is now a well recognised treatment for anxiety. I have been aware of this postural relaxation for many years, however research by the remarkable Temple Grandin has illuminated the underlying basis for this effect and spawned products like the Thundershirt for anxious dogs.
Please post on Facebook if you have any thoughts or experiences you want to share.
Now watch these videos and go teach STAY!
- Aloff. Aggression In Dogs. 2002. 248-262
- Grandin. Making Animals Happy. 2009. 46-56
- Horwitz & Mills. BSAVA Manual of Canine & Feline Behavioural Medicine. 2012. 146-158