By Marcy Eckhardt
Special to the Herald
Picture this: You’re standing at the doorway, leash in hand, and your dog is going crazy in front of you. All she wants to do is go for a walk, and let’s face it, after she gets through her initial burst, she’ll make you wait as she takes in every new smell, leaf and anything else that catches her eye. But initially, she’s out of control ... what do you do? I recommend pausing – just stand still or freeze – for 15 to 30 seconds.
Or let’s say you’re trying to feed your best bud and he jumps up over and over until his head hits the bottom of the food bowl, causing it to fly everywhere. Try pausing: Once you fill the bowl, turn toward your dog, look at him and freeze. Just stare at him for 15 to 30 seconds; then ask him what you want – maybe a sit, or a wait, chill or easy.
If your pup is great until the food bowl hits the ground, use the pause; stand with your dog at their typical eating location and wait. As soon as they sit, start to put the bowl down. If they move toward it, pick it back up but pause halfway for 10 to 15 seconds, then repeat.
Anxious dogs thrive when we pause. It gives them a chance to ingest everything and take a breather. Pausing also works great when you’re dealing with a dog that bolts out the door or around you on a leash. I’ve used this when training to heel, stopping a dog from barking, and especially during impulse-control situations. For example, if I’m walking a dog that is over the top, I’m going to ask him to sit next to my knee, then pause and focus on him.
When I pause with dogs, I’m focused on them, I’m consciously and loudly taking deep breaths and I may be giving them something to look at, either my face or my hand. This acts as an anchor and helps dogs focus on us and ground for a moment. Then I give them a verbal cue, “Let’s go!” or “You know this.”
Pausing involves stopping the situation, giving the dogs a chance to reset and then succeed. It slows everything down for a moment and makes the conversation be about them. Let’s face it, we’re all juggling a number of things at the same time – and a badly behaved dog is often a dog that’s smart enough to know he’ll get a lot more attention when he’s misbehaving than when he’s not. If you’re a fast-mover or a busy parent, pausing is often the key to improving the relationship with your pet.
Marcy Eckhardt is the director of pranaDOGS Behavior and Rehab Center and trainer for La Plata County Humane Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.