My Dog Is Crazy!
Dealing with High Energy Dogs
by Tami McLeod
The alarm goes of at 5:30am…BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! My face, still buried in the pillow, reluctantly rises just enough to allow my arm to reach out in desperation to hit the snooze button.
Moments later, “Yip, yip, yip!” goes the new client dog. This is the story of my life when it comes to checking in a new puppy (or even older dog) to my resident training program. As I begrudgingly drag myself out of bed, stuff my feet into flip flops, and fasten a robe around my waist in utter grumpiness the yipping escalates, and the dog is now like a tornado. The crate is actually rocking back and forth in MayTag washing machine fashion. By the time I am able to unlatch the crate door Fluffy has now turned into a Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, jumping, spinning, hair flying. If I am lucky I will avoid a bump to the lip.
By the time the new training dog (aka “The Heathen”) is taken outside to potty the rest of the household is now awake and ready to rumble. I have officially started the day off as a bonafide grouch. Only freshly ground and brewed Italian roast coffee will bring joy to life in this moment. I finish nursing my mug of steaming coffee bliss as I finish dog rotations.
It may not be terribly difficult to imagine this scenario. In fact, this is the root of many client frustrations I experience as a professional dog trainer and coach. Many of my new clients with super high energy, destructive dogs often admit to me that they attempted some sort of management/containment training with their dog, but not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and losing copious amounts of sleep, they gave up. Somehow, this started the slide down the slippery slope where the dog was then allowed to sleep loose, which led to destructive behavior or accidents. So the dog was put outside more to “burn off energy”, which led to barking dog complaints by the neighbor, barrier frustration, and so on. So, the client attempted to walk the dog, only to be further frustrated by a barking, unruly dragon at the end of the leash.
Never fear. It all goes back to basics first. While your new issue may be leash walking, it likely all stems with energy and behavior management around the home. By creating an energy burn plan for your energetic pooch in conjunction with training, you can get that adorable, furry monster under control. Here are some tips to help you out:
A tired dog is a good dog! A treadmill is a GREAT way to burn off a little extra energy before bedtime, on rainy days, or when you simply have a dog who needs a little extra burn before their daily excursions. I WALK my dogs predominately on the treadmill. The idea is not to get their fitness level so high that it exceeds your energy level, but to burn off a bit of energy in a slow, controlled fashion. Twenty minutes of “walkie time” as I call it on a treadmill will prepare you and your dog for a more enjoyable hike later in the day. Think of it as a warm up. You might add five minutes of trotting to get the tongue lolling, but mostly calm walking is best to condition a relaxed mind.
2) Teach your dog the concept of patience. We tend to go places. We always have a destination. In horse training there is a method of tying a horse on what is called a patience pole. They simply learn the skill of doing nothing for long periods affixed to a pole sunk in the ground. In dog training, your dog needs to learn to be patient and relaxed while on leash. YOU can be the patience pole. If it can be done with a thousand pound animal, surely we can teach Fido to just wait. Do nothing. Go no where. Coffee shop patios are great for this. Also, teach your dog to be patient and travel in a crate. They exit the vehicle calmer in most cases and allow you to get your equipment organized before the dog exits the vehicle so you aren’t in a mad rush. If you are rushing because your dog is wound up, who is in the driver’s seat?
3) Get the equipment to help you accomplish these things. Make a training box or bag. Training leashes, collars, Bitter Apple Spray for barking, squirt bottles, treats are all part of my training box. You may need a pro to help you properly implement their use and perfect techniques, but without the right gear you are wasting your time.
4) Pick three to four activities lasting an hour or more to do with your dog each week to burn exercise, then practice being a patience pole during that activity for 15 of those minutes. Hiking, biking, trip to the beach or lake, field trip to Petsmart or Home Depot, etc. Don’t wait to do your training until you have to make a vet appointment, or when your child is playing in a soccer game. Practice before you need the skills. With a high energy dog you may need to treadmill before you engage in these activities to manage their enthusiasm.
5) Enrichment treats: bones with frozen peanut butter on the inside, stuffed Kongs, knuckle bones, bully sticks, and pig ears are all example of some great enrichment items to create calmness while inside the home, kennel, or crate.
So, stock up your training bag. Get a strategy in place to pre burn some energy BEFORE your dog excursion, and schedule your weekly field trips. Put a plan in place and try it for two weeks and you will see a big difference in your dog’s behavior.
Who knows… you might even want to go to the next level and enroll in more challenging courses for fun!
Embrace your five! “What is a five?” you might be asking. Well, let me explain.
I teach workshops throughout the US and Canada, and the most frequently requested topic is drive building which I incorporate into my “Drive Development” curriculum. Granted, my “Drive Development” courses involve all facets of drive work, spanning the whole spectrum from very little drive to dogs that are over the top and hard to control.
In a round about sort of way, building drive has become an area of expertise. I don’t always wear that badge overly proudly because it has come with some painful sacrifices, and limited success….at least measurable success. You see, it took twenty years of putting my dues in with dogs that were not high drive. Dogs that needed building, nurturing, threshold raising to work through poor nerve structure. Very few trainers stick with it, and those who are serious about competition opt to cut their losses and locate a more suitable dog. I went through this evolution early on as well, going through dog after to dog to find a dog to keep me in the trial field at a national level, or at minimum regional level in the sport of IPO.
Fortunately, before that phase I put my dues in. Seriously, I earned it with hard work, pulling teeth, blood, sweat and tears. I was making a living titling dogs that really ought not be bred for clients (breeders) who really did not care if their dogs were neither suitable nor enjoying the work. They were tools. A means to bolster their breeding resumes. I look back on that time and sort of cringe. I mean, I contributed to that bit of ridiculousness, getting paid lousy wages for insanely hard work and to compensate for lack of working ability, all so show breeders could sell a litter of pups….for much less than they paid me for months of training. However, being a sunny side kind of chic, I came away with something. Something invaluable that most in the sport nowadays don’t possess which is the ability to take a dog with very little potential and polish into something special to the owner. In fact, most don’t understand why I would waste my time. At the time, it was fun. Challenging.
To those new trainers who have yet to put their dues in (but who may be very skilled trainers none the less with sport dogs) and to owners who are struggling with your dog’s capabilities (or limiting factors as it may be), ask yourself what you want to achieve. Do you VALUE high level competition more, or do you VALUE bringing your dog to his/her potential. You can’t have both with the dogs under a “five” (explained in next paragraph). Both perspectives are correct. It is not about being divisive (elitistists vs hobbyists). Quite the contrary. Let me explain.
In my workshops I teach a scale. My brain functions that way. Everything in my little head is in the form of spectrums, scales, graphs and comparisons. It used to be all on feel. The two together help us develop our craft as trainers. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being virtually no drive and 10 being bordering on dangerously volatile, a perfect dog for training for me is around an 8, maybe even a 9 because I like to live dangerously. These are the dogs that you basically don’t have to do any drive building with, and even if you do a mediocre job, they still have reserves in their gas tank. You might knock ’em down to a 7, but they are still strong, motivated dogs by working dog standards. Then you have the 10 dogs. These are the dogs often used for breeding, or who put on an awesome show but can never quite get it together. Not enjoyable by even the most skilled and tenacious handler. The higher you go on the scale, the more WITHHOLDING a stimulus (toy, food, etc.) builds. This could be good or bad in training, because there are other factors in place including nerve structure, ability to focus, and biddability. Five is a magical number. The middle of the road dogs where most of my seminar attendees’ dogs fall at or below. Those who, if the reward is withheld or the criteria increased by just a hair, flatten like pancakes or deflate like old helium balloons a few days after the big party. Those beasts who prance into the ring, and work with twinkle toes and shining eyes in practice, but settle in for long march down field when you hit the center line. Been there….many times. Many, many times. My first Malinois, Filo, was a five. That five took me to multiple national championships, Germany, and was the dog who started it all (thanks go out to Augusta Farley for the Malinois that taught me a lot). He also taught me humility. I had several national level dogs afterward. He could have been better had I heeded the advice I am giving now; advice I never received. He could have been MUCH better.
This balance point where withholding can plummet a dog’s drive and confidence lower if not skillfully managed and CONDITIONED is where exasperation and frustration set in. When the concepts of conditioning drive states, multi faceted building through proper play, and resource management are truly understood and you put the HOURS and months in it takes, there is a gold pot at the end of the rainbow. Most give up, get a new dog, or shrug it off like, “Hey, I didn’t really want to compete anyway.” Inwardly, they might be saying, “I love the dog I have and want to go on this journey, but I don’t know how.” Been there, too. In fact, a multi world champion told me to get rid of my “five”. Notable trainers had me going through dog after dog to find that golden goose. The reality is that many coaches VALUE handlers with dogs that make them look good. Naturally! I think coaches need to be sensitive to the goals of their students and allow them to really determine what the student values. Also, what the student values is fluid. It changes over time. It is part of the training evolution. Me, I want to train pet dogs for a living truth be known. Send me your pet dog clients so I can pay my bills and I will gladly help you polish up your 3, 5, or 9 dog to the best it can be. I digress. Back to the story.
It is only after I felt satisfied with my achievements….after that burning desire to “do” something or “achieve” something measurable had been met did I finally put it all together. What is it at this juncture do I VALUE? Once you answer that question then you can embrace your training journey. If you want to compete on a national level, we can’t, as my boyfriend Chris says, “Polish a turd into a diamond.” A little offensive, perhaps , but it is true. I can build drive better than most because I have developed those skills over twenty years of “have to”. However, even I will tell you that we can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip. We cannot create what is not there. That is unfair to the dog. We can, however, make them the BEST they can be whether it is a 1,5, or 10. Also, don’t under sell your abilities or your dog’s. Amazing things can happen. My “five” was my first national level dog, and my first SchH /IPO III dog. Recently, I learned that my friend/training collaborator(s) in Nashville OTCH’d his “4” dog and qualified for the National Obedience Championship (with the help of his teammate and co handler). Another student in New Mexico achieved a motivational obedience retrieve and BH on her “1”. To a trainer, these are valuable accomplishments. No more, no less, than making a world team. It is all in what the handler values and identifying their dog’s realistic potential.
So, put on your rose colored glasses, have a glass of wine, and look on the sunny side of things. What do YOU VALUE? Where does YOUR dog fall on the scale? Whether it is a BH, OTCH, or IPO world podium placement……..Embrace your “5”!
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Hydro’s Journey: Part IV
Hydro is now developing quite a following, and since writing Parts I-III, he has made tremendous progress!
This next segment will outline the trip back from Tennessee, and his first week home.
Picking up from Part III where we left off, Hydro had bitten four handlers in six months time. Three of the four required an ER visit and sutures, as well as near choke outs to diffuse the situation. The police canine broker was kind enough to agree to house Hydro for nearly a month, as I was unable to get away from my business until such time. Flying via air was not an option, as it would require him to be handled for a veterinary visit and health certificate, as well as transporting him to the airport. Nowadays, one must get the dog out of the crate at the airport so that TSA can inspect the crate, and due to Hydro’s recent issues this wasn’t an option. Continue reading