Any Dog Can Live Calmly Even Yours!

Wouldn't It Be Nice If...

My dog could come in the house without tearing all over the place? My family could go out in the yard without being jumped on by our dog? My dog was not so crazy when guests come over? My dog would just lay by my feet so we could enjoy some quality time together after a hard day?

These are all very reasonable goals! Who really wants a dog that has to spend the rest of his or her life alone in the back yard or garage? This isn't the true companionship most of us dreamed of when we got our dogs.

The good news is that it doesn't have to stay this way! There are lots of simple exercises you can do right now to begin to incorporate your dog into your life without major disruption. Little by little, you can build a happy ending!

Let's Get Started!

Settle Down

The goal is for your dog to learn to just lie down quietly whenever you sit in a chair & ignore him.

  1. First step is to gather everything you need: lead & comfortable, soft collar for your dog & about 50 tiny delicious treats that your dog really likes, a mat for your dog to lie on & something for YOU - a book or TV.
  2. Bring your dog into the house on the lead & collar & go directly to your chair. Sit down with the lead held close, or under your foot so your dog has just enough room to lie down with little room for exploring. Ignore your dog.
  3. If your dog barks or whines, pretend you don't hear (or care!). Do NOT push him or verbally reprimand him. If he nuzzles you, move your arm away. If he jumps on you, lean forward or stand up so he drops off without you having to touch him, look at him or talk to him. Refuse to acknowledge any attempts to get your attention.
  4. While pretending not to pay attention, wait for your dog to get bored enough to lie down. When he does, click (or calmly say Yes, once only) & place a treat between his paws so he eats them from the floor. Sit up & go back to ignoring him. Still lying there? Give a few more clicks/yes followed by treats at unpredictable intervals.
  5. After about 5 minutes, gather your belongings & move yourself & your dog to another place in the same room. Sit down without a word to your dog & wait again for him to settle down in his new place. Reinforce this desired behaviour with a click or a yes followed by a treat when he does. Gradually increase the time between the treats.
  6. When you are tired of this, tell your dog All Done in a matter-of-fact tone of voice & let him go back outside.

What's great about this exercise is that all dogs can do it! Its simply a matter of setting yourself up for success & waiting out your dog. If your dog likes to chew on the lead, try some Bitter Apple spray (or rubbing alcohol or other yucky tasting substance) to soak the lead before you start.

If you need more help, tie a stuffed Kong or bone to the foot of your chair to keep your dog busy.

The Joys of Food Carrier Toys

When does your dog ever lie still? Never! you might think, & its probably true for much of the day. What about when he's chewing on something? Don't almost all dogs lie down to chew?

The common problem is finding something that will hold your dogs attention long enough to settle him down. Lots of dog toys are destroyed in minutes or quickly lose their attraction. In other cases, dogs have so many toys scattered around that none of them are particularly interesting anymore.

Food Carrier Toys can be an almost magical solution! They are long-lasting &, by their very nature, are different each time because you refill them with different food temptations. The idea is to stuff these toys so well that your dog will have to work on them for a good hour or longer at a time.

A dog that is laying on the floor working on his food puzzle is not running through the house, jumping on people, barking, getting on the furniture or stealing your shoes! By association, your dog begins to learn that being in the house is the time to relax & work on some puzzles.

After a good chew session, most dogs are truly tired - mentally & physically - & are more likely to remain calm for even a little while longer. Food carrier toys are a great way to buy you & your family some peace & quiet & begin to teach your dog to relax.

The best toy is the rubber Kong. Its guaranteed indestructible & can easily be cleaned & used over & over again. Look up http://www.kongcompany.com for clever ideas on how to stuff the Kong to keep your dogs interest for long periods of time.

Sterilized bones, available in pet stores for just a few dollars, are hollow & can be stuffed with soft treats on either end to keep your dog licking & gnawing. Get a bone with thick walls to prevent chips from breaking off.

Rotate your dogs chew toys regularly so he always feels like he's getting something new.

Ask your veterinarian before encouraging lots of chewing & eating of rawhide & similar materials. Ask, too, about the appropriateness of raw marrowbones for your dog & always consider your dog's individual temperament (likely to growl or bite if you take it away?).

Remember, if you don't give your dog something engaging to do in the house, he will find his own entertainment. It is best, therefore, if you take the initiative.

Reinforce What You Like; Ignore/Prevent What You Don't Want

This simple learning principle can be applied to any situation. All animals, including people & dogs, are going to repeat behaviours that lead to things they want. Have you ever told the same joke several times just because someone laughed? That's reinforcement! [If no one laughed, the joke would die a natural death.]

Similarly, dogs remember the things that worked for them. If nuzzling you gets you to pet him, a dog will continue to nuzzle to the point it becomes an annoyance. Same with jumping, running through the house, getting on the furniture, barking, whining stealing shoes, etc. All of these behaviours remain in your dogs repertoire of 'What to do when I'm in the house' because they have been reinforced, intentionally or not, by you.

Attention from you, even in the form of reprimands, is a powerful reinforcer for dogs. Many dogs, like many badly behaved children, will escalate annoying behaviors to get you to notice them.

Ignoring what you don't want is one part, but that won't get you far if you are not also actively reinforcing what you do want the dog to do instead. We are all guilty of ignoring dogs when they are peaceful & quiet. Why mess up a good thing, right? Actually, this is a terrific time to go pet your dog or bring him a treat or offer him a walk. Let him discover that being calm brings good things.

Of course, there will be annoying things your dog will find fun & reinforcing with or without your involvement (e.g. getting into the rubbish bin). That's where good management comes in: i.e. remove the temptation.

A Little Management Goes a Long Way!

Set yourself up for success. Think of practical ways you can prevent the behaviours you don't want until you can get your training in place. It's OK to let your dog drag a lead or longer house line so you can catch him more easily or move him away from restricted areas. Just make sure someone is paying enough attention to keep the dog from getting tangled & strangling himself.

Simply stepping on the lead or dragline can restrict your dogs access so he can't quite jump on you. Calmly picking up the end of the line will prevent all kinds of chase & keep away games & will give you an easy way to remove your dog from furniture without confrontation.

If your only means of control is lunging for the collar, you'll find that your dog can easily outman oeuvre you, making the dog more excited at this fun game & you more frustrated & annoyed! Set it up so you can remain calm & in control.

Tethers & crates are great ways to begin to teach a dog to be calm in a house. Crates, when introduced properly, are terrific holding areas (like a playpen or crib for a baby) for up to a few hours at a time. A tether can be as simple as a lead tied to a doorknob.

Dogs generally make the best of any situation. If there's nothing to reach or do, they will usually settle down for a nap. Take advantage of this by restricting your dogs access during periods where you'd like him to be still. This is much more clear to your dog than YOU joining in the fun by chasing & yelling!

Remember, if your dog can do something fun, he will. If he can't, he will find something else to do. It's up to you whether your dog develops good habits or bad habits by the experiences you allow him to have. Trying to get a dog to stop once he's started is always more difficult than preventing the behavior in the first place.


This article written by Madeline Gabriel, Manager of Behavior & Training, San Diego Humane Society and S.P.C.A in 2001 is reproduced with kind permission of the author.