I love it when friends and clients come to me with questions for advice regarding their animals. I have so much inside my brain, I just love to share it with you! Of course each animal and owner is different, so do not be surprised if what I advise does not work for you. I have gathered many experiences in my lifetime of working with dogs, but they still continue to surprise me with their individuality.
I received a note from someone asking about calming medication for their dog. It was timely because I was actually having an issue with one of my dogs getting too excited in the car. When I say “too excited” I mean that the dog cannot control itself. Dogs can be pliable to a point, but they also can enter a “zone” where they are not listening or responding; only reacting. This is when we as owners need to take a step back and reevaluate things.
I would like to speak of my experiences with prescribed tranquilizers (pills from the vet): I did not like them. When a reactive dog came to see me (I was a groomer), I could read their body language and understand their actions. With a reactive dog that is also tranquilized, they would become unpredictable and would bite at almost anything, usually not giving any warning. This was a danger to anyone within range. Usually, I was able to work through aggression with owners. Occasionally, there are dogs that are always going to bite. Knowing the truth was half the battle. Here’s the truth about muzzles: they hit calming points on the dog. And also, the muzzle takes away the option of biting, so the dog really doesn’t have to worry about it (though I was still bit sometimes from a dog through the muzzle, wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been without a muzzle).
Here’s my advice about calming medications: I have seen great success from Rescue Remedy if you want a calmer. Also there are some Happy Dog calming treats, those work sometimes. I have heard, but not experienced personally, that essential oils for dogs can calm them. I am sure there are many trainers and “dog experts” out there that will shake their heads at me and yell their advice at the screen. That is great! Find a person you trust with your canine, and listen to them. We all want the best.
Also for calming, there are various training methods. Wahoo, my Australian shepherd, is three. She gets excited in the car because she knows we always go somewhere fun. Her excitement is out of control though, and when I took her for a ride in the car last week she pooped from excitement. That behavior is not acceptable to me; if you cannot control your body. So she is going to be doing some ride-alongs during errands with me. I’m going to let her learn that she can be calm in the car, and that it is not always over-the-top exciting. She might even get bored! Whether you opt for herbs, tools, or training, please discuss with your vet and/or professional trainer.
Don’t you love it when you come home from a long day and you are greeted by your best friend? What if your best friend got so excited that they peed all over you? Not so cute. This situation is fairly common; especially with a submissive dog. They do this because they want to show that they are not a threat. Usually, this is an excited puppy that just totally gives into their emotions, and lacks body-control. For these guys, they can grow out of it. There are some things you can do to help them. Teaching body-control can be difficult, so let’s start with commands. Since these dogs are submissive pee-ers, we can hope that they would also be able to be trained since they think you are the “most amazing human ever”. Calm and quiet are the thoughts you need to have when greeting your dog. It can be as simple as teaching them to sit before you greet them, or whatever command you would like. Or possibly ignoring the excited behavior and when they are calm, you do your greeting. When meeting other people, it might be fun to have them ‘shake’ or ‘bow’ in order to get their mind off of the overwhelming excitement of the greeting. Getting the dog to move past the “pee trigger” is a big step. IF this issue is becoming a chronic one and/or you are working on it but cannot stand pee everywhere, there is a product called the belly band that can catch the pee before it goes everywhere. Once again, a professional trainer would also be able to help assess your individual needs.
Basic commands: come, sit, stay, roll over, good boy. Right? What if you have a highly independent dog? Until I got my dog Sydney, I thought teaching a recall was one of the easiest commands. At five months old, the only way I could get Sydney to come was if I yelled “Sydney, NO!” at the top of my voice. She would come running, and then slide under the car so that I could not reach her. I signed up for puppy classes. Even now at ten years old, she will struggle with the recall command. Last week I had to call “Sydney, cookies!” to get her attention. We are working on recalls this week. Training is a lifelong task. To begin teaching recall, I advise all my friends to use the “name game”. Here’s how it goes: you carry around stinky treats in your pocket (your human friends will love you). When your puppy is distracted, say their name. When they look, “Yes!” and treat. This will teach them to look at you when called. Then add distance, and maybe just the command instead of their name. It’s easiest to use a long leash, even 20 feet, so that you can have a little control. Wait for them to be distracted, then call name, when they look, then say command. As soon as they do what you want then it’s lots of praise and cookies.
Which brings me to another thought of a fatal flaw of many: chasing your puppy when they don’t come. That is the best way to teach them the game of running away. I worked hard on teaching my puppies to chase me, not vice versa. You have got to be more fun and rewarding than anything they are interested in. This means you have to be willing to run around with hands waving and your best Minnie Mouse voice (I’ve done it), “whoohoo, c'mon puppy, I am so much fun, come see what I’m doing, holy cow this is so awesome!” Don’t be afraid to sound silly. Also, whenever I had time I would tether the leash to my waist (with puppy/dog attached to leash) and just walk around doing my usual routine. This, I believe, helped the dog to pay attention to me while also building our teamwork. It may have backfired a bit with Wahoo because she is now what we refer to as a “Velcro dog”.
I cannot stress enough the importance of a quality dog trainer. They will be able to help you with almost anything!
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! I am not a professional dog trainer, just a person who has been honored by a life of experiences with canines.
Erica is a blogger, an artist, a (mostly) retired dog groomer, mother of three, and Jeff's very best friend. Check out her blog at: ericaknapp.wordpress.com