Slow and Steady Saves You Face

At my dog daycare facility, I often find owners struggling to help their dog maintain a sit during greetings, or apologizing for their excited behavior in the daycare lobby. They seem to really want the dog to come into the facility in a calm, respectable manner. This same scene takes place on sidewalks, in parks, at the vet’s office and in homes across the country.

If we were video taping the trip from home to daycare (or any other place), we would probably find that rewinding the tape would show that this crazy lobby behavior started long before the dog was being asked to sit. We would also find that it was actually the owner, not the dog, who set the stage and wrote the script. It would go something like this…

The owner is getting ready for work and says to the dog in an excited voice, “We’re going bye-bye! Do you wanna go bye-bye today? Wanna go to the park? It’s daycare day!” (or something along these lines.) The dog wags, wiggles and gets excited. I doubt the dog knows where he is going or what his owner is saying, but he can tell by the tone of voice that something great is going to happen!

Then the leash comes out. If the dog hasn’t been taught that the leash is not a cue for going nuts, he will immediately proceed to go nuts on cue. Now the momentum is building. In fact, it’s that very momentum that will propel the dog into the position of pulling on leash all the way to the car.

During the car ride, we’ll hear the owner revving the dog up even more. “Where are we going? Do you know where we’re going?” Honestly, the owner might as well be saying, “Are you ready to act like an idiot? Get ready to jump and bark!”

Most of my clients tell me (quite happily, by the way) that their dog gets extremely excited in the car when they reach the last red light before pulling into the daycare parking lot. This makes sense, since the dog has been anticipating something for at least thirty, if not sixty minutes now! Perhaps he has figured out where he’s going, but he was good and revved up before he solved the mystery.

All morning the owner has been sending the message to the dog that being excited and wound up is an appropriate response. All that changes when the car is parked. Suddenly, this unpredictable human has switched gears and lost all of their enthusiasm, but that’s okay because the dog now has enough enthusiasm for everyone!

I can only imagine what the dog is thinking when he finally reaches his destination. “Sit? Are you freakin’ kidding me? We’re finally here!! You were so excited about this, and now you want me to sit? What’s up with that?”

What if we re-wrote this script? What if we didn’t bother to have a high-pitched, excited conversation with the dog (in a language he doesn’t understand, by the way) and instead did something like giving a stuffed Kong to empty while we got ready to go.

What if we taught the dog that the leash doesn’t necessarily mean anything, so there is no reason to do more than look at your owner and sit so the leash can be attached.

We would then be heading out the door with a calm dog who has a fighting chance to succeed at walking calmly to the car. It would make sense to such a dog to sit before entering the car. After all, we’re just getting in the car. During the car ride, we could offer a soft, quiet, “Good dog,” for relaxed car behavior.

If the dog still gets excited when he realizes where he’s going, we can offer treats or a chew item to encourage some semblance of decorum. Upon arrival, we could require a sit before getting out of the car and a relaxed, loose-leash walk to the final destination. To ask the dog to now sit and remain calm for greeting the daycare staff (or our friend, vet, stranger) would be a much more reasonable request. This dog might be thinking, "Sit? Sure, why not."

Ahhh…isn’t that so much nicer? There are times and places for bouncy, crazy, playful behavior. Your dog won’t know when or where this behavior is appropriate unless you teach him. Set your dog up to succeed by preparing him for calm behavior…then let him run around and act like a dog when the time is right. I promise, a calm departure and a quiet ride to the park will not curb the enthusiasm once the ball is thrown. You’ll both still have a great time!