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Dogs Who are More Fun to Live With

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Many dogs lack the ability to control themselves when excited. They jump, they mouth, and they tend to act before they think. They don't mean any harm, but can knock people over or use enough pressure with their teeth that it hurts!

In particular, puppies, adolescent dogs and certain breeds (Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, and large terriers, e.g. American Pit Bull Terriers) often show lower levels of impulse control. A combination of training, mental enrichment, and exercise develops impulse control and frustration tolerance, giving these dogs the skills they need to be a lot more fun to live with after some time and practice.

Here are a few of my favorite exercises for these dogs, and there are videos showing most of them here, too:

Work to Eat:

Use puzzle feeders like snuffle mats and stuffable toys like Toppls to make foraging fun, or just toss food around the yard or patio (do be cautious if grass is treated with fertilizer or pesticide.) Use your dog's food as the training rewards for all of these exercises.

Susan Garrett's It's Yer Choice game (AKA Leave it, Doggie Zen):

This game is used to teach waiting, impulse control, frustration tolerance, and is a foundation for "leave it" which you can add as a cue, later. It also helps dogs figure out that hands are not for mouthing and biting. Over time, you will want to add challenge by having your dog leave things alone on the floor, on tables, and on the counter, and also walk past things outside without touching them. Get in touch for help with that training work.

* Hold a treat in your closed fist in front of your pup. Trying to get the treat = red light, backing off = green light.

* If pup bites, chews, paws at your hand, keep your hand

closed. (If this hurts, wear a glove.)

* When puppy backs off, open your hand. When pup stays backed off, feed a treat. Watch this game in action here.

* Once that's going well, generalize the game to surfaces in different ways. For the floor, use your foot to cover the treat while standing, so it looks realistic. As your pup can easily stay backed off, start dropping the food from just a couple of inches off the ground, and gradually higher and higher as your dog succeeds. You can also hold your pup on a leash attached to a harness, not a collar which could pull on his trachea, and walk past items on the ground.

* Ready to work on tables and counters? Kikopup's great video for counter surfing is here.

Say Please:

The concept of say please is that we teach the dog to sit to "say please" for just about anything - toys, food, access to the outdoors, leash clipping, etc.. Play with toys by holding a toy in the air and cueing pup to sit.

* If pup jumps at the toy, move it out of reach and wait for a 2nd try.

* If pup sits, say "Get it!" and toss the toy. Then say "Give" and offer a treat close to his nose. When he drops the toy to get the treat, repeat the game. After several reps, see if pup sits without cueing and say Give without offering a treat to see if he has made the connection to the rules of the game, yet. If not, keep saying sit and keep offering the treat after you say Give, and try again later.

* If the dog isn't into toys when you are trying to play, just throw a treat, instead. When he returns, just wait for him to sit again to re-start the game.

* You can extend this game to sitting for a duration of time, waiting, until a leash is put on, until a door is opened, until food bowl is on the ground, etc... Ask me for help with training for each situation, if needed.

* Use a flirt pole for this game for added fun and for dogs who tend to hit your hand when leaping at a toy - it's a legal outlet for jumping and biting and keeps you out of the way of teeth.

* Stand inside an ex-pen if your dog is very enthusiastic, and have children practice from inside a pen or behind a gate to keep them safe.

Tug with rules:

This game is similar to the last game. The dog has to sit to "ask" to play.

* Great video preview here.

* When pup sits, offer the tug toy and get a good game going. After a short time, say Give and offer a treat. When he drops the toy to get the treat, repeat the game. Interrupt the game before it gets too arousing.

* Also, use a nice long tug toy with a knot or something that is a visual barrier. If the dog bites higher than the visual barrier or touches skin with teeth, abruptly end the game by walking away and ignoring the dog.

More step by step details can be seen here.

Go to mat:

Teach your pup to hang out on his mat to earn rewards. This will be very helpful at mealtimes, and when you want to sit on the couch without him getting crazy. When we teach, we have to introduce the concept of pointing at the mat to get him to walk to it, sit, then lie down. Then we have to teach him to stay on the mat for long periods of time. Then we have to be able to walk away while he is on the mat. Then we might want to teach him to go to the mat from across the room. Finally we want him to learn to stay on the mat when distracting things are happening around him. Combining all of those criteria takes time, so be patient with him, and try not to combine lots of things at once before he is ready. Watch different methods for this training in action here and here. You can also check out Dr. Karen Overall's relaxation protocol for ideas of what to do once your dog is able to stay on the mat for a while.

Sit & Settle, AKA Belly Button game:

Walk around with treats held in your hand at belly button level or a little lower if pup is small. If she jumps at the food, no food. I usually start by taking steps backward, then later move forward or sideways, just one step at a time at first, then more steps. If she walks nicely, feed her. If you stop walking, also feed her if she sits. Watch this training in action here.

Go Wild & Freeze:

After Belly Button game is going well, we increase the intensity to teach that it's ok to run with us, but not jump on us, and always to offer a polite sit when we stand still. In the refresher videos, they are working with dogs who already they take off running and get exciting right away. We want to work on less exciting things until the dog really understands the game. So a few steps, a few steps with a little excitement, etc.. and build up to what you will see here. Break it down so your dog doesn't get too excited and make mistakes in practice. In one video the trainer uses treats, in the other video the reward is more play.

Hand Target

This is my FAVORITE game. We teach the dog to touch his nose to a flat palm. (Use a different hand position if your dog already knows shake.) You can use a hand target as a recall cue (Come!), as a way to teach polite greetings (touch hand instead of jump), as a way to relocate a dog from the couch or out of the car or onto a scale, to get a dog moving when distracted or fearful or not interested in walking where you want to go, and just as a fun game. Here's a great video to check out.

Waiting at Doors

Dogs who dart out of doors are a danger to themselves. They can get lost, get hit by cars, or drag people holding the leash, causing them to fall. Teaching a polite wait position at doors, car doors, and even at the top of stairs is a great idea to build patience. This is my favorite video demonstrating the game. Add people at the door as distractions after your dog masters the game, as shown here.

Polite Greetings

This work starts in a low distraction place, not as someone is walking through a door. (More on that in the next section.) Check out this "how to" video. For really hyper greeters, I often play this game, too. That last game is great for playing when you arrive home and greet your dog at the door or let your dog out of a crate or a car, too. For a truly polite dog, we build the ability to wait for the door opening, see the person walk through, and accept a greeting from the human without jumping. (We wouldn't work this way for a dog who was fearful and/or aggressive to strangers coming through a door.)

Additional resources:

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