One of the most magical thing about dogs is how excited they get for ordinary events.
Me and Cow go on daily runs to prepare for an upcoming 5K.
Every time she realizes that we are about to go for a run or a walk, she goes NUTS. It’s adorable.
She starts shaking her nubby little tail stump, and she barks every few seconds like WOOF. WOOF. WOOF. WOOF. *cries* WOOF!
It’s sweet to see her excited, but it annoys everyone else, and it makes it difficult to get out of the house without being disruptive.
But I don’t want to punish her or kill her joy.
Besides, saying “No!” and “Stop barking!” does little to calm a dog’s excitement. It doesn’t tell your dog what to do. Verbal reprimands can actually get a dog even more overexcited.
So, we needed a better solution.
Managing Your Dog’s Level Of Overexcitement
Before we can make any progress, we need to make the goal as easy as possible to achieve.
This means not giving your dog 15 minutes to get worked up.
I used to put on her leash and harness, then put my shoes on, get my water bottle, pack some treats, look for my car keys… all while she had to deal with her uncontrollable excitement.
It wasn’t her fault, really. This is the highlight of her day. How could she NOT get excited? How could she stand waiting around for me to get my ish together?
So, now I try to get myself ready first, and put her leash and harness on last. That way, she doesn’t realize that it is time to go for a run until I’m almost ready.
Instead of shaking in anticipation for up to 20 minutes, now she only has to be excited for two minutes.
Giving Your Dog A Job
The absolute biggest change came when I gave Cow something to do with all of that nervous energy.
I taught her to grab her harness and leash for me while she was waiting.
I’m still working on this, currently. She needs a lot of help right now, but since I’ve been asking her to get her stuff each day before runs, she’s improving.
Your dog doesn’t have to know how to fetch yet. You can even start this habit with young puppies who don’t know anything yet.
Dogs pick up skills remarkably quickly when they have a big prize at the end – RUNNIES or WALKIES.
If you’re starting fresh, get yourself ready for the walk and then, gesture to your dog to grab her leash.
She doesn’t have to give it to you just yet. Simply encourage her to mouth at it before you put it on her.
Then, the next day you can ask her to grab it. During the next session, get her to drag it a few feet towards you before you clip it on.
Make sure the leash and harness are stored where she can easily access them – unless, of course, she’s still a puppy or has a tendency to destroy things.
Within a month, I think Cow will be able to retrieve her leash if I tell her, “get your leash!” in a whole other room. Right now, she can drag her gear out of the toy box with a little guidance.
Eventually, Cow will probably start to get her leash any time she feels like going on an adventure.
I won’t always be able to take her on runs on-demand, but I’ll be more motivated to take her out if she lets me know when she feels like running (which happens to be ALWAYS.)
Replacing One Behavior With Another
Even after Cow has her harness and leash on, she may start to bark. Especially if I’m still looking for my keys, or getting the music started on my phone.
If she starts barking too much, I’ll walk away from the door. I show her that barking is not the way to get my attention and rush me out the door.
When she barks, I point at the end of the leash on the floor and encourage her to grab it. When she stops barking to pick up the leash, I reward her by taking it and getting us outside.
I don’t need to do anything else to discourage her from getting too excited before a walk. I simply do not respond to the demand barking, and I make it obvious that grabbing her leash is the right way to get my attention.
Discourage bad habits with incompatible behaviors: your dog cannot bark and hold her leash in her mouth at the same time.
Her barking has been reduced by about 90%.
When she barks, I turn to ignore her, and she actually checks herself, grabs the leash, and gets her reward – in this case, it’s not a treat, it’s a faster exit.
It is very difficult for dogs to learn when they’re overstimulated.
So, you’ll need to practice this before every walk, every outing, to get your dog in a habit of relaxing and doing her “job.”
If you have someplace to be, allow an extra 5 minutes or so to work on calm, good habits before you go. Rushing out the door will just make leaving home an even more excitable, overstimulating event.
Also, go for more walks even if you have a fenced-in backyard.
If you only go on a walk once per month, of course it’s going to be the most exciting thing ever.
If you go on walks often, they won’t be such a stressful event.
There are no quick short-cuts in training. But communicating clearly and working with your dog’s natural emotions, rather than inhibiting them, will allow you to see progress at a faster rate than you’d expect.
Why This Works So Well
Saying “no” to your dog doesn’t mean anything to her.
It also does not change the rush of adrenaline she experiences when she realizes it’s time for an adventure.
By giving your dog something to focus on other than how fast you’re getting ready, she feels in control of the situation – she can actually help you along by getting her leash ready.
It’s also a powerful way for your dog to communicate. I notice that my dogs light up when I give them outlets for “talking” to me – whether that’s with a potty bell or a signal to let me know when they’re hungry.
When your dog demand-barks, she’s not being bad. She’s trying to talk to you. Giving her an appropriate way to do that is so wonderful for your connection, and that extends into every area of your training.
Using positive reinforcement to train your dog isn’t spoiling them, being permissive, being too “soft” or otherwise failing as a dog parent. Some of the strictest dog parents I know are the ones who do not rely on punishment, simply because they set boundaries and find creative, productive ways to get their dogs to respect them.