It isn’t hard to shut your dog down, lots of people do it. Shutting a dog down means ‘taking the wind out of their sails’. It is an effective way to let a dog know they have no choices, and it is your way, period.
Family pet owners to seasoned professionals are capable of doing this, mostly when their desires are stronger than their observational skills.
A calm puppy is not anything I would expect or look for, and for sure not an adolescent dog. Calm comes from time, maturity, and consistent information over time. Seeing bits and pieces of a behavior, and knowing that the information is consistent over time, allowing for error, is simply the best way to train! The biggest, BIGGEST mistake I see over and over is people mistaking CALM for what is really a SHUT DOWN DOG.
If you have competed in a dog sport you have heard the term ‘ring wise’. A dog who is handled with more pressure, and is asked for more with precision in mind, and they shut down. It’s a loopy pattern but I have watched various handlers repeat this pattern without ever stepping back to ask themselves why?
Just the gear bag being packed for the trial, a certain collar or harness being put on, your trail clothing, or entering the trail environment, and the dogs body language and energy flatten, they know what is coming and the overwhelming expectations being put on them, and blam, flat.
You might do this a little or a lot. Purposefully because of goals, or accidentally because of expectations that were too much for your dog.
If you have ever been to an agility trial, you can see one of three things.
- Dogs that have handlers who are focused, clear and COMPETE LIKE THEY TRAIN. Consistent with balanced expectations. There is even flow, and it looks seamless. You can’t tell who is the teacher and who is the student.
- Dogs that have handlers that TRAIN DIFFERENTLY FROM HOW THEY COMPETE. They work lovely in the yard or in a training barn, the handler is relaxed and focused, and then they get into a competition environment, and they are tense, stressed, have HIGH expectations, and send their dog, emotionally, through the roof. No start line stays, no contacts, stress looping, for sure a ‘blow past the weaves’ behavior, and no semblance of Team. YET they continue to compete all day long, making the same mistake.
- Dogs that have been pushed and pushed and pushed far beyond their skill level, and with heavy consequences, over and over and over. Drilling. These dogs enter the ring politely, have a nice start line stay and when released, walk or trot tentatively towards each obstacle so they don’t make a mistake, walk through the weaves at the pace of a sloth, and finish politely. I have seen handlers throw their hands in the air and say crap like “thank god, our final Q for our title”, and then you look at the dog and there is nothing but a tortured look on their face. That was not fun for them, it was not enjoyable, it was forced, and expected.
Wanting or expecting a behavior from your dog that is perfect, and not allowing it to happen with time and maturity, will in fact shut your dog down. Here are some examples of using the energy your dog ‘came to the planet with’.
- Observe and become great at observation. Get to know your dogs body language and emotional state. You will learn to only work, and continue work with your dog, when their body language is lifted and they are anticipating more.
- Play, play with your dog. Fetch, tug, hide n seek, etc. PLAY. There should be no expectations of perfect, and it is your dogs time as much as your own. PLAY. I cannot stress that enough.
- Take walks or hikes together and enjoy each others time. Be safe, reward your dog for coming to you, and enjoy this time.
- FREE TIME is a way to observe your dog being a dog without expectations. Watch, observe, learn, and be on their time WITHOUT human direction. You of course need to be in a safe place that is interesting for your dog, but it is a way to really open up TEAM.
- PLAY WITH A PURPOSE is my preferred way of training. It is play, and fun, and small introductions of behaviors, and releases to something my dogs really want. I keep energy high, and look for things I like while letting them FLY.
- When I want to try new behaviors, strengthen one we have been working on, it is always a bit of this and a bit of that. I never press one thing too much, and there is always music, and always motion. I keep my mood light and I allow for my mistakes and my dogs mistakes and let everything go that I don’t want to keep. I NEVER CORRECT or notify my dog if it is not perfect. MOVEMENT is a great way to train.
- Introduce, then let it go. For days or weeks.
- Introduce a behavior again and see if your dog has recognition of it, and it so play with it for a bit.
- ALWAYS make sure training is mutual, and that you do not have EXPECTATIONS that over face your Team.
- NO PRESSING BEHAVIORS, back yourself off, write down on a piece of paper the number 2, do only 2 of something, but do not press to the point of failure.
- Have down time, days or weeks. A breather.
- KNOW, really and truly OWN THE FACT, that everyday your skills and your dogs skills will be different. Some days it clicks perfectly, and some days it doesn’t click at all. Some days your dog may be sore from a hike the day before, and some days they just might be tired. Some days you might be distracted, tired, or way to frustrated to be an effective handler.
If you have shut your dog down, stop everything, back off, and give you and your dog a break, a long break. You need to reevaluate, when, what, where, and how. And when you start back up it is always short and successful, with hopefully ZERO EXPECTATIONS.
Here are two videos that show my mistakes. The first video is a great example of a distracted handler who didn’t prepare her dog or herself before entering the ring. Total rookie mistake. And you can see the train wreck unfold before your eyes. This is 100% handler error. I knew better, but it was an off day for me. So instead of finishing the next 5 runs with my three dogs, we spent some time visiting my dogs favorite Aunties at the trial, got some nice treats, and then went home and played in the yard, fetch, hide n seek, etc. If I would have continued I would no doubt have flattened my dogs, disappointed them, and possibly caused ‘ring wise’ behavior when entering an agility environment.
This video is the next day. I settled in and was emotionally and mentally engaged. I prepared my dogs before each run, and was COMPETING JUST LIKE I TRAIN. Even. Balanced. Steady. Consistent. The difference between Saturday and SUnday was night and day.