We have discussed the importance of calming our reactive dogs and the effects of stress on them. Self control is a critical part of modifying reactive behaviour in dogs as many of them do not handle their emotions well and frustrate easily. Working through self control concerns allows us to be working on the foundation of their arousal levels to enable them to better settle themselves when they see other dogs or triggers that cause a reactive response. As we see their self control improve, we will also begin to see their threshold increase and make great progress in resolving their reactivity concerns.
So what exactly is self control? It is defined as the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behaviour, especially in difficult situations. For our dogs, this translates as calm, focused behaviour in situations that may typically elicit reactive or over-the-top excited responses. The more we assist our dog at being calm and learning patience, the better response we will receive from them during these excitable times.
Self control is an easy skill to teach and build into everyday life. The key is to teach your dog that in order to receive anything and everything they perceive as a positive, they must offer calm behaviour. This could be a sit with attention, or just standing calmly.
You can teach this with everything your dog perceives as a positive such as your attention, a toy, their dinner, getting their leash on, getting to go out the door, saying hello to a person, going to explore a new scent and so much more! Each and every time your dog wants to gain access to the rewards, simply wait for calm behaviour before providing them access to them!
For example, your dog gets really excited with a ball by barking and jumping when they see it in your hand. Simply wait for them to stand on all four paws calmly, or sit, and when they do, say ‘yes’ and throw the ball. Or, let’s say your dog gets really excited and runs around when they see you take out their leash. Simply sit and wait for your dog to settle. You may even cue them to down, but as you approach, if they get up, stop your approach and wait for them to settle. Once they calm, you can say ‘yes’ and release them to put on their harness.
This truly is an easy skill to train throughout every day and should just become a habit for us. Every time we see too much excitement or arousal levels get too high, we simply wait for the calm behaviour and reward that!