Rewarding calm behaviour

It’s important to us that we have a relaxed dog that isn’t always running around like crazy, jumping on people in greeting, etc. Betsy isn’t there yet. She’s not the most hyper dog I’ve ever met, but she’s pretty excitable around people and other dogs, and is often getting herself into trouble by trying to play with dogs that absolutely do NOT want to play. She doesn’t approach calmly for a sniff – she will happily launch herself right onto a strange dog’s back if I let her, as if obviously they will want to play with her.

Not ok.

She also tends to roam restlessly around the house in the evenings, picking up naughty things to chew on, even though she has plenty of ‘legal’ chew items at her disposal.

She is getting better. We’re quite stern with off whenever she tries to jump on someone, and when she does approach someone calmly, we always make sure to praise her. You can often see her trying to contain herself – she’ll start to jump, then remember she’s not supposed to, and curb herself into melting into someone’s legs instead. It’s so cute to see her try so hard. But sometimes she completely forgets, especially around other dogs, so it’s a work in progress.

One experiment I have started after reading about other people doing it, is randomly rewarding her whenever I catch her in a relaxed state around the house. If I notice her lying on her bed, or quietly chewing her bully stick, I’ll make sure to tell her she’s a good girl, and I’ll often go grab a treat to give her as well.

I have no idea how well this is working but my theory is that it certainly can’t hurt!

We also practice various impulse control exercises, which Betsy is really good at, despite her issues with rude greetings. She has to sit and make eye contact with me before being allowed to approach her food dish. She has to sit calmly in front of me before I clip on her leash. If she’s really eager to get outside/inside, I make her sit and wait until I have taken off/put on my shoes before she’s allowed to go through the door. When she pulls towards something she thinks is super awesome, we turn around and try again until she manages to approach it on a loose leash.

Betsy practicing her impulse control by waiting for my ok before she can have breakfast.

Betsy practicing her impulse control by waiting for my ok before she can have breakfast.

Sometimes it feels impossible, like we’re making zero progress. But I know this must not be the case!

And occasionally, we have a breakthrough. She used to start dragging us whenever the house came into view, so excited to come inside and run around like crazy. After a million “turn around” exercises after each walk, she finally has figured out that she doesn’t get to walk down that final stretch of road until she is walking calmly by my side. And in recent weeks, our turn-arounds have diminished from 10 to maybe 1 or 2.