Several months ago, Skip began leaping up and down in front of me while we walked up the hill, in anticipation of getting the toy that he and Maggie play tug games with. It was cute for a few weeks, and then became irritating. I’m trying to walk forward up a steep hill, and he’s pogo’ing himself in front of me, impeding my progress. I tried ignoring it, but he kept it up, no doubt because eventually he would get reinforced when he got the toy when we arrived at the top of the hill.
So, what to do to stop the behavior? I could teach an incompatible behavior, one of my favorite ways to deal with this kind of an issue. However, I took another approach, which worked so well and so fast I had to spend some energy getting the behavior back over the last few weeks so that I could video it for you. Which, of course, now I can’t . . . best laid plans and all that. I could wait until Maggie is no longer lame, but I don’t know when that will be, so I’ll just describe it in hopes that will be enough. I should mention before going any further that this method works wonderfully for some dogs, in some contexts, some of the time. But when it does, it’s so refreshing!
What I did was nothing. No wait, that’s not true. Not nothing at all, but certainly “less,” at least from the perspective of Skip. What Skip wanted was to keep walking up to the top of the hill, where he and Maggie would get the tug toy and begin to play one of their favorite games. But instead, I did two other things: First, I stopped and stood still, which is both doing something and doing nothing, depending on your perspective. Second, I turned my head and body away from Skip, crossed my arms and gave him nothing to engage with. As soon as he stopped bouncing and took his attention off of me–perhaps sniffing, walking up the hill, or picking up a stick on the ground, I turned and began walking forward again. It took me about 5 repeats to get us all up the hill on day one; granted it took some time and patience. But it was easy to do as long as I was patient. Day two of this was no different; it probably doubled the amount of time it took to get to the top of the hill. Maybe add on 4-5 minutes? But on day three I had to do it only two times, and on day 4 the behavior was completely extinguished.
Why then, you might ask, did I go out this morning to get a video of the behavior, since I just said it was extinguished? Because that was several months ago, and lately I’ve been trying to get it back so that I could get a video of him doing it for this week’s post. But now Maggie is lame and something is weird with my Youtube account anyway, so the goddesses are just not going to let me get you a video. But I’ve been wanting to write about this for months, so I’m just going to forge ahead by writing about it.
So, what happened? In one sense, I very much did a lot when I stopped walking up the hill while Skip bounced like a cocaine-crazed kangaroo. I switched from walking forward to standing still, I crossed my arms and I turned away. In another sense, I did less–I withdrew attention, stopped moving and said nothing. I thought of this when I recently saw a good trainer chirping incessantly to his dog, asking the dog over and over again to do X in order to prevent the dog from doing Y. I wanted to suggest to him that he simply stop, stand still and be silent for a moment, but it wasn’t my place to interfere.
Recently, I talked to a kick ass dog trainer whose dog was hyper reactive on walks. This is not a normal dog–truly brilliant, athletically gifted, and much too easily aroused. I suggested she just try stopping and going silent when the dog began barking and lunging. No cues to do anything else, no backing up, no prompt to look at the distraction on cue. (All of these methods can be extremely useful in many cases. She’d tried them all.) I said, “What might happen if you just went still and silent?” It helped. Magic? No, but it helped, substantially.
I’d love to have a conversation with you about the power of stillness and silence. I’d write more, my mind is buzzing right now, but it hurts to type so I’m going to stop. (Note: Just hypothetically, if you take Doxycycline after a deer tick bite to prevent Lyme disease, and take it on an empty stomach, be prepared for your body to attempt to expel not just the contents of your stomach, but your actual stomach, and to slip, fall and slam your wrist on a sharp crate edge whilst dashing to the bathroom. Just hypothetically, of course.)
What I can do, however, is repeat parts of a post I wrote titled Less is More, in November of 2016, this time about not overwhelming clients in private sessions or classes with too much information. Here is part of it:
From November 2016: When I first started seeing clients, I felt a need to send them home with as much information as I possibly could. How could I deprive them of all the things that they could do to help their dogs? Because I knew that people only remember a relatively small percentage of what they hear in one appointment, I wrote a number of booklets over the years for them to take home and read. The Cautious Canine, Feisty Fido, and I’ll Be Home Soon, for example, were all written as supplements to the information I covered in my early sessions with clients.
But there was always so much more. Dogs who were reactive to other dogs on leash were confused by the owner’s lack of consistent cues. Fearful dogs needed more than classical and operant conditioning when strangers arrived; they needed to live in a family that provided a sense of security, not one of “dominance”. Dogs with separation anxiety had virtually no idea what the owners meant when they said “sit,” and that added to their general anxiety.
So much to teach and so little time! I’d would do my best–explaining that we needed to work together more than one time; sending them home with booklets and handouts, appropriate toys and/or training tools. However, as the years went on, I began to hone down what we covered in the first appointment. Just doing a good intake interview is tiring for everyone. It often took a half hour, or even longer, and after that one could see that the humans in my office were already getting tired. I had asked them, after all, no small number of questions that took a lot of thought to answer. “When did the problem first begin, just even an inkling of it?” “What exactly did you do in the 30 seconds after the first bite two years ago?” “What would “success” look like?”
Thinking through the history of a behavior problem takes a lot of mental energy, and it doesn’t leave a lot left for learning new things. That is why many practitioners ask people to fill out a questionnaire before the appointment. There is a lot of value in that, and I too sent out forms and asked people some general questions on it. But I prefer asking many of the questions in person. First of all, the interchange between us often led to discoveries. (“Oh, that’s right! I forgot… He didn’t start growling at dogs at the dog park until after that big brown dog slammed into him at the front gate.”)
In addition, it gave me lots of time to observe the dog’s behavior, and the relationship between the dog and his owner. Did the Ginger the Golden obsessively sniff the carpet for an entire twenty minutes before settling down? Did Marco the Mastiff avoid looking at his owners’ faces? There is a lot to learn about a dog and his relationship to his owners (and vice versa) in an unstructured, new environment, and I never wanted to lose that opportunity.
That is why I never wanted to rush the intake interviews, and why I settled on going over just a few things for our first appointment. Usually it boiled down to sending them home with 1) Practical solutions for dealing with the problem for the next two weeks–often management, not cure, 2) A handout or booklet explaining how to treat the problem. I would ask them to read it before our next appointment, but not necessarily begin working on it until we met up again and I could go over it in person and, perhaps most importantly, 3) a cue, practiced in the office, that gave the owners the feeling that they really COULD influence their dog’s behavior. It always was based on positive reinforcement, and it always was something I knew that I could teach quickly.
I link these together because, as I’ve talked about before, not only do we sometimes chatter too much to our dogs, but because there is power in stillness and silence. Please don’t be silent however in your comments, I am truly looking forward to your thoughts. Have you ever tried just going still and silent around your dog? Results?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Maggie is not a happy camper. She’s been lame off and on for over a week. I think it is a pad on her front right, one of the ones badly cracked by frostbite last winter. I’m resting her and slathering it with Queen Bee’s Lotion Bar. Not sure if that will help, but the pad has a hard, raised area that looks almost like a callous. Poor girl.
Except for Maggie, it’s a busy place around here. Jim and I can barely move at night. No need to work out at a health club when you live on a small farm and have a big garden. At least, not in spring. But there are so many rewards, including this native flower that is blooming this week, the Shooting Star.
Polly is reminding us that apparently tails need to be rested.
No rest for the birds in the photos below. Our beloved barn swallows are back and busy as, uh, barn swallows in spring. These two are perched outside the barn with nesting material in their beaks. One nest, that I couldn’t get a good shot of, is full of wool from when the shearer was here. Seems only right.
These next two birds are inside the barn, and I was so surprised when I had a chance to look at the photo carefully. Given that adult male and female barn swallows look alike, what’s with the white versus the cinnamon belly colors? Turns out the darker one is a juvenile. Juvenile? Already? That seems almost impossible, but I see no other explanation.
You can see some of the swallows swooping overhead in this photo. And that’s “George” against the fence, the four-wheeler who has my undying love. He’s named George because he is a Honda “Foreman” model. Jim said there was no question his name should be George, and I know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, so George he is. He’s one of my favorite guys in the entire world, because he allows me to get to the top of the hill without having to clamber up every single time I need to go up there. I just got back here from taking George up the hill to work Skip. Skip and I had a great time; not sure how George felt about it.
The last photos are of some of my other loves, including native flowers. Here’s a “Jack” in the Pulpit that is probably really a Jill (the plants start out as males and become females only if the resource base allows it). Behind the Jack is another native flower, the Toad Trillium. Not the most attractive of names, but then, I love toads too, so we’re good.
And then of course, there’s food, high on my list of wonderful things. This is a Beef Bourguignon pie I made for a dear friend’s 75th birthday.
May your week too be full of things that bring health, joy and a significant yum factor.
I am so guilty of being a chatter box with my dog. Not that it matters as he now knows to ignore me. And, if I remember to do it instead of speak it, I do incorporate ignoring him when his behavior is not the best. One such behavior, for example, is nose nudging your arm or hand to get attention. Both my husband and I usually start (and often finish) with a “no”, “don’t do that” and the famous “hey” command. But once in a while I’ll remember to cross my arms and turn away, which does work. I think I need to do this more than once in a while! Your photos are always a pleasure to look at, and that pie is making me hungry.
Years ago we adopted a Newfoundland mix who’d been at a shelter for 2 sad years, labeled aggressive with children. We discovered very quickly that he wasn’t aggressive with children, with whom he was deeply in love. But he did nip when he got over-excited during play; he was a big guy with a soft mouth but the nips sure could smart. We assume he’d done that with his original family’s children and so off he went to the shelter.
We used your technique, Trisha, and the nipping was extinguished in less than a week, never to return. When we played with him and he nipped, we’d just turn our back, stand completely still, and pretend he didn’t exist until he calmed down and walked away. We didn’t let children interact with him until the behavior was gone. He quickly became the neighborhood dog that kids would hug and hang off of, and stretch out on the grass with and use as a pillow. We occasionally run into some of those children, now adults, who always remember Hugo the Huge and how much they loved him. Less sure was more with Hugo, our gentle giant.
Our current dog, Chica, can be very over the top with barking and lunging when large party dogs approach in the distance. I’ve tried this technique with her and it’s been a complete failure. She just can’t handle their bouncy approach and I’ve stopped asking her to when she’s over threshold. In her case, I’ve found it’s better for her if we move about 10 feet off the trail where she can watch the dog go by without being near them.
I have been struggling with a similar problem for a while. When it’s time to eat I want Kate to run ahead to her crate as every dog I have had has done. Kate wants to barkbarkbark and jump on me all the way from the kitchen to her crate. I have tried to stand still, looking away from her, but her default is to bark louder and jump higher. I tried waiting this out, but am afraid the neighbors will complain, especially at 7am. Leading her to the crate and then preparing the food eliminates the jumping (duh) but exacerbates the barking.
So my not-very-trainerly management technique is to back away from hem waving my foot in an arc so she doesn’t jump, and, when we get to the spot where she *might* run ahead, spin around and try to send her with my shoulder.
It leaves me feeling like an idiot.
I’m also eyeball-to-eyeball with a probable hip replacement; not looking forward to trying this on crutches.
YES! I discovered this with my older husky. When he was rescued, he weighed 42 lbs and had giardia. He’s a healthy weight now at 60 lbs. So he is very anxious around food, wondering (even after 4+ years) if he’s going to be fed. He circles in the small kitchen while I’m preparing his food. Circling and circling until he almost knocks me over. Calmly saying “stop” is ineffective. So is raising my voice. Physically stopping only works while my hands are on him. One day I tried doing nothing. I stopped prepping his food. I actually stood and watched him circle. He noticed, glanced around and stopped. I asked him calmly to sit and he did. As soon as I turned my attention to his food, he started again. I stopped, looked at him until he noticed, and told him to sit when he stopped circling. After about three repeats, he finally calmed down and sat while I finished prepping his meal. Lots of praise when it was finally delivered! It became the twice-daily routine, him starting to circle and me staring at him until he stops and sits. To this day, he still slips occasionally into the habit, but a simple glance is often all it takes to calm him and get him to sit by his bowl and wait.
Although I already knew to stand still turn and “do nothing” some how I forgot that technique with my puppy, Vahni, over the winter. But my older dog reminded me how effective this could be. When we were at the biting at everything, let me hang off of you stage my older (6yo) border collie would just stand still and turn her head when Vahni would hang from her neck or harness. She was amazingly patient and such a good big sister. Within a week Vahni had almost completely stopped doing that to her- so she turned to me. At first I tried distracting her with a toy or a behavior she already knew. Not so effective. Then I just stopped and watched the dogs interacting. I saw the 6 yo teaching the puppy continually what the rules are. So I tried it, never being too old to learn nor too proud to learn from anyone. Done! Except for the occasional flare up when Vahni was over the top aroused it was perfect. And so much easier than fussing at her or always having to have a toy to stuff in her razor sharp puppy teeth.
Charlotte Kasner says
Poor you; Lyme disease is no joke and it sounds as if the treatment is pretty awful too… and poor Maggie.
I spend a lot of time stopping my training clients from doing things – and often behavioural clients too. The difference in dogs that being still and quiet makes can seem miraculous and it often leads to a “lightbulb” moment for clients when they realise that I am training them, not their dog!
A word of caution on turning away though; excitable dogs can react even more exuberantly in order to maintain one’s attention and I certainly find it much harder to stave off a hefty jump when not facing the dog.
I had a Siberian Husky who found it highly amusing to sneak up behind me and plant his front paws on my shoulder blades. He never put much force into it but knew that it would make me jump. This almost ended his meal ticket when he snuck up behind me on a carpeted floor and nearly propelled me out of a third floor window. He never tried it with anyone else – just “our little joke”. Of course, I’d give anything to have him do it again now that he has been gone for more than two years.
Kay Bell says
Thank you for the reminder. My Aussie is 2 1/2 now but can still go maniac in seconds, getting in my way of walking, watering, etc. I did the turning arms crossed when she was a puppy. Time to pull that back out.
My 12 malamutes used to scream like crazy at dinner time. I had to walk from the house up a short hill to the kennels, and by the time I got there I was thinking about ways to yank out their vocal cords with my bare hands. The stop and be still method worked like a charm. This was many years ago, but my recollection is that it didn’t take that long, maybe a week. Of course, feeding times took quite a while at first. As soon as most of the dogs were quiet, there would always be one who just couldn’t contain themselves. Still, I stopped and waited for quiet, then started moving again. And it worked! Eventually I could walk up the hill with a dozen bowls and blessed quiet. It’s one of my proudest training accomplishments, or at least the one that gave me the most satisfaction!
Christine Johnson says
I’ve used this method with great results, especially when the pack is clamoring at the door to go out to the garage to be fed. But I want to tell you how it also went wrong for one of my dogs.
I compete in agility, and a key skill is the start line stay. My corgi Loretta has a big problem with this. So bad that when I leave her at the start line she totally turns off. My brilliant trainer and I were struggling with this, Loretta loves the game otherwise and is keen and eager to run. Then we talked about the silent treatment at the door, and my behavior at the start line. Guess what, they were the same. Loretta equated my silent expectation of her attention (not to mention turning away to get to my place) at the start line with the silence at the door…poor girl thought she was being punished somehow. After our discovery I’ve changed my behavior in both places and we’re making progress with the start line stay. The door barking has happily extinguished itself by now anyway.
Lynn Ungar says
Oof, sorry about the Lyme and the fall and Maggie’s lameness–hope you’re all feeling better soon. I do use the stopping and going silent with Tesla when he starts barking his excitement when I get ready to go on a walk. It has helped considerably, although it doesn’t necessarily carry over from one day to the next. It is possible that “I’m not going anywhere while you yell at me” is a phrase that has found its way into the process.
Bonnie Kreitler says
Loved this post!
We adopted a teenage, off-the-streets dog (what were we THINKING!). Hyperactive, anxious, ADHD, high prey drive. Not distracted or diverted by food, toys, or affection. (Sigh) Then to make things more intense, she was attacked by another anxious, hyperactive dog and became fear reactive to ALL dogs. Environmental triggers everywhere in her world!
We worked with multiple trainers (and made more than a few missteps) to develop a program that helped her become a solid citizen. But along the way, I accidentally used a technique similar to what Patricia describes (which works really well with horses, BTW) and, without intentionally doing it, I created a response which now works magically.
When I go silent, chill, and relax while looking at the “trigger” thing, she now SITS! And while she doesn’t LOOK at me, she puts her awareness on me. Yay! (I notice this by the set of her ears, rather than her eyes — that’s one of the horse parts).
When she feels that I’ve got the situation, she may still be triggered but realizes She doesn’t have to do anything about it. Think sometimes we get so focused on the physical mechanics of a training procedure we forget how important our body language is to animals and how our mind chatter affects our body language. Patricia reminds me to remember that our animals are not verbal by nature. They’re far more tuned in to environmental cues than we are.
Patricia–your pamphlets and books have been great tools in working with this challenging pup. Thank you!
Thanks so much for the compliment Bonnie, and yay for you for hanging in with this challenging dog. Love the addition of using it with horses, and especially the reminder to focus on ears!
Thanks Lynn! But to be clear, I don’t have Lyme disease; the Doxy is to prevent getting it. Love image of our dogs “yelling” at us when they are barking!
Great story Christine, about how things seem to generalize when we don’t want them to!
Vicki: I love the image of your screaming dogs, your patient waiting for silence, and the one–always one–who just can’t contain themselves!
Thanks so much Charlotte, but don’t worry about me. I don’t have Lyme, took one dose of Doxy to prevent it. And that’s a great point that excitable dogs might get worse. Possibly just for awhile–a classic ‘extinction burst’–or maybe not at all. Smashing into my shoulder blades would not go over well here, but I totally get how we miss such things when we’ve lost those special dogs. I’m glad you have such good memories.
Judy, I too will do something that is successful (in a variety of contexts, not just dog training), but then just stop doing it for virtually no reason that I can think of. I know we’re not alone. Why do we do that, anyway?
Good work Minnesota Mary, I love how stopping and going still is such a huge cue to a dog. I suppose in part, because we humans almost never do it!
Margaret: I got dizzy just trying to imagine you spinning around in your kitchen. A few thoughts: Could you alert your neighbors that you’re working on barking and it might get worse for a few days at 7 AM? Is she toy oriented? Could you teach her to take a toy in her mouth? Might work, might be too much work though. You could try putting barking on cue, but that would increase it at first too. Hmmm… other ideas anyone? I’d go for the “talk to my neighbors and bring them cake and donuts” method first…
Tammy: What a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing it.
Diane: Our Gr Pyr, Tulip, was famous for slapping her huge paw into your lap to get more petting. Crossed arms and a turned away head worked wonders, not just for us but for our visitors. (We also added a few head pats, which dogs generally hate. Not strokes, but pat pat pat on the top of her head, then turn away. Works like a charm!)
Yup. I do this when my dog barks at me to “throw the toy already, Mom!” She hasn’t quite learned not to do it at all, but it does stop her in the moment.
Deborah Mason says
I tried the truth & ignore with our first dog (Golden Retriever). But, I only turned my head, most often. She was a very smart dog. After a while, shed turn her head away by& ignore me if she didn’t want to do as asked. Educational.
Paula Sunday says
I love showing this technique to clients! I always confess it was learned from you!!! One I especially remember was a demand barking pomeranian ( imagine that !) who made me (you!) look like a genius when I taught the owners to freeze when he barked for food/attention. Worked while I was still there! They were thrilled, they were chatters, too.
I honestly wish I could get shelter kennel staff to do this when feeding or exercising the shelter dogs. I have had some short term success but with the turnover of staff and many volunteers it just isn’t consistent enough to work.
At Minnesota Mary,
Great job with your dog and his circling. When he had learned to sit, I actually said “Good boy!” I love it when we can help our dogs like that. All of these comments have been so great. I love this post. Tricia, you poor thing! I’m so sorry the antibiotic made you have “sad tummy,” as we call it around here, but most of all, I hope your wrist is ok. You didn’t break it, did you? I hope it’s feeling better, and I hope Maggie is feeling better soon as well. I remember when Seamus cut his paw pad on something. I don’t know what that something was, probably a small rock, but he had to wear one of his winter boots for a few days, which made for slower guiding. Anyway, one of the things I love about training with a new guide dog is the new techniques the school has implemented since I’ve been there. One of these, when I went to get Seamus, was something called a “time out.” If the dog was too distracted or ramped up by something, we were taught to put our hands down to the base of the leash, just near the collar, and hold perfectly still for ten seconds. We didn’t look at the dog, didn’t talk to the dog, but we both held still. I thought, this isn’t going to work. I mean they can still look at the thing that’s got them all excited, right? Well, on an early walk with Seamus, he was all over the place, and not paying attention to anything I wanted him to do. My instructor suggested I try a “time out.” I tried it, and guess what? It worked like a charm! Seamus was right back on track and the rest of the walk went fine. I found this tool was really usefull on campus, because, unlike Marlin or Torpedo, Seamus was very reactive to small, fast moving objects, leaves, squirrels, rabbits, or a thrown ball. Maybe it was the goldy in him? A college campus is filled with these things, especially on the green space where we often had to walk. I would use this a lot to focus him when lots of things were distracting him, and it always worked.
Anyway, thanks for writing this post. I really miss dogs, and reading all of the comments, as well as the blog itself, has made me feel so happy today. Hopefully, I’ll get the call for a class date soon. Also Tricia, I literally feel your pain. I’ve been dealing with an injured shoulder since February, and though it’s getting better, today is not a good day. I have an orthopedic doctor’s appointment later today, so hopefully they can figure something out, and also, thank God it’s not the dog arm!
Kate is a challenge for sure. She has no interest whatsoever in toys–I’m building her retrieve step by slow step; after months of effort she will take a dowel and hold it for 10 seconds, and take about 3 steps with it if I’m holding the other end.
I have also tried tossing kibbles out in front, trying to shift her focus. She couldn’t take her eyes off the prize long enough to eat them, even when I tossed them directly from the bowl.
Once she even jumped up and nipped my arm–bruise, no worse–when she was absolutely ravenous after a cluster of seizures. Not again.
I’m thinking that barking to make food appear has such a long reinforcement history that it may not be fixable. Kate was almost 4 when I got her, and had primarily been a kennel dog. Just think of a kennel full of Keeshonden all wanting their dinners RIGHT NOW, all revving each other up….
I’d need earplugs.
I’m considering shifting to a purely management strategy; keeping the food container and the dishes above the crates. I’d still need to get them from the back door into the dog room without Kate tripping me, but that might be easier if the bowl of food is not being held out of reach. What I’m doing is obviously reinforcing to her, or it wouldn’t still be happening.
Cocaine-crazed kangaroo! 😁 I use the silent, still method successfully for my two year old Aussie mix. He’s very in tune with my every move and caught on quickly. Doesn’t work so well on my husband though. 😉
Deborah Mason says
When our first dog (Golden Retriever) got too pushy, I started looking away until she settled. It worked. For a short while. Then SHE started looking away when asked to do something she didn’t want to do! So, back to where we were before. We learn more with each dog we’ve had, but still have a long way to go.
Linda Keast says
You all recognize this as the “Be A Tree” tactic that we teach children to use when scary or bouncy dogs/puppies approach — but now applied to adults?
I love it!
Deb Mickey says
Our sheep live at a farm not too far from us so it’s load up the dogs for a 5-10 ride to tend to them. Needless to say my border collies are very excited on the trip. One just gets the “sheep shakes” but the other one screams – loudly – especially when we turn to go up the driveway. It’s still a work in progress (and she’s almost 4) but stopping the car on the driveway and waiting for her to get quiet is working, kinda. Instead of continuous screaming, we now have grunts and quieter whining. Patience, Grasshopper.
I agree, and have had similar experiences with my own dogs. Rather than describe those, I wanted to note that just this morning I saw an author interviewed on the news. She has traveled around the world studying parenting, and one of the things she shared was how differently parents in other cultures deal with upset children (tantrums, especially). She suggested parents get very calm, grounded, and quiet. Don’t rush in with solutions or helicoptering or coddling or scolding. Maybe gently rest your hand on the child’s shoulder. Model calmness, which the child can and will mirror. Don’t be hyper about distracting the child, but when the time is right, point out something pleasant, like “Do you hear that pretty birdsong?” or “That breeze sure feels nice” or “I’m looking forward to seeing your grandma this weekend.” The book is called Hunt, Gather, Parent.
Tina Steele says
I have been struggling with my 3 year old social butterfly Papillon Maggie who is over the top excited when we do agility. She carries on in her crate waiting (not) her turn, takes off before release in the ring, and heaven forbid I get confused during the course she decides she’ll take care if it and will run to any obstacles she wants! She can do them all. One of my coaches has me running the course quietly using body language instead of a bunch of cues and has me go to a chair to sit quietly when Maggie takes off. It’s really helping. Standing and turning doesn’t seem to get her back right now…hopefully it will. This is a pup that will do sit stay and come everywhere else. I practice agility and rally in my yard and she’s fine. We will keep working on it! Thanks for the info…all tips are very welcome.
BARB STANEK says
Yes! Silence and doing nothing are both great tools! My two year old Portuguese Water Dog is giving me plenty of opportunity to renew my acquaintence with these tools! More than I have time to describe here. Thanks for the opportunity to say it!
Yes I teach my clients that stopping reinforcement will extinguish quite a few annoying behaviors. But that’s not enough. I must add positive as well as negative reactions are reinforcing Basically ignore and reward when dog stops. Then we get into more details of who and how reinforcement happen. With children in the home it is actually really really difficult.
Oh man this reminds me of when I got my rescue dog who was 90 pounds of untrained 9 month old puppy. I know that ignoring = extinguishing (often), but it’s hard to ignore being nipped in the butt with a giant mouth. I took to wearing construction thickness overalls every day so I could swear silently. Just when I got desperate and scheduled with a trainer, we couldn’t recreate the behavior because it had finally stopped. As a primary care provider, I often wish parents got pamphlets on the extinction burst when babies are born. Most helpful concept ever for bed time. But what a painful (literally in this case) process.
Pamela Keuneke says
My dog Cecil is an 80-pound Labradoodle rescue who spent the first 8 months of his life either kenneled or crated during the day to protect the 4-year-old in the home from his exuberance. He was then snuggled and loved on in the evenings after the child was in bed – this left him an odd combination of being very lovable but unsocialized. After being released to the humane society, he was adopted out once and quickly returned, and then taken in by a program that matched incarcerated boys with unadoptable dogs for training – which is where I found him. Today he is 4 years old and smart as a whip but like a bull in a china shop when it comes to greeting people. I have often said he is like living with a small pony because when he first came to live with me he knocked over furniture and actually jumped on the dining room table in his excitement over a new person coming into the house.
Thank you so much for this post and for the reminder to stop the constant chatter. I know I do it and it is confusing to Cecil. I try being still which often works for him but I forget to stop talking, usually reminding him over and over what I want from him even though he doesn’t understand ‘Cecil that’s enough! No jumping! Get your nose out of her crotch! Glenn doesn’t like dogs….’
I am a work in progress and Cecil is so forgiving!
Deborah Cartwright-Saxe says
Ohhh. Excellent! I have a bouncy kangaroo of an 18 month old Aussie boy. He is a COVID dog so he is not as well “socialized” as my other Aussies – (I have 3 and a BC). He is extremely opinionated about everything. Jumping up and down in front of me is his very insistent communication whenever we go anywhere without the other dogs, including to classes. I will try quiet stillness next time. I have been just letting him do it, but really it doesn’t ever stop. It would also be good to know if the communication is about anxiety/fear/let’s get back to the car or excitement/treats/let’s run and play together. He is definitely trying to tell me something.
When taking doxy for a tick bite I have to eat a bunch of food, take the doxy, then eat a bunch more food. This works very well except I do gain a bit of weight with this method. HAHA.
Great article but I’m having a hard time understanding how this would work with a reactive dog. When I walk my dog, he will bark and whine (he makes a noise like his nuts are being squeezed even though he doesn’t have them anymore) at other dogs. He completely ignores me. If I were to turn away and cross my arms, I don’t think he would even notice since he is so fixated on the other dog. Am I wrong about that assumption? Btw, my dog’s response is fear based, not aggression.
Love this Betsy, thanks so much!
I shouldn’t laugh Deborah, but that is hysterical. And the reason I’ve always said “I’m so sorry” when someone says “My dog is so smart!”
Kerry: No idea if it would work with your dog, I hear you! As I said, this is a method for some dogs, some of the time. It’s worth giving it a try though (I’d try it 3 times. If no improvement, drop it. But if he’s a little bit better, find a way to reinforce that and keep it up!
Regarding dear Maggie – Could she have a corn on her toe? They seem to mostly afflict greyhounds, but I suppose other breeds can get them.
Starter info here, but surgical removal does not seem to be a recommended treatment anymore. http://www.ngap.org/greyhound-health-corn-y301.html#:~:text=Corns%20are%20hard%2C%20painful%20areas,can%20also%20appear%20in%20multiples.
More current info on treatment here – https://www.greyhoundhealthinitiative.org/corns/
Thanks so much JMM, this is very helpful. I have wondered if she had a ‘callous’ on a pad, but a corn sounds like a good possibility, especially since it’s been so dry and the ground is so hard. The field at the Nippersink trial was like cement… beautiful, but dry and pounded by a large flock of sheep grazing. One of my friends had her dog go lame there, she thinks it was related to one of her pads and the hard ground. Maggie is better (and bored silly), and I’ll be gone much of the weekend at a herding clinic with Skip, so we’ll re assess early next week. (And it’s finally raining here a little bit, finally!)
Im an in home dog groomer for 25 years specializing in seniors and special needs dogs. My clients always wonder why I do not engage the dog and only on occasion QUIETLY speak. Quiet calm energy gets me and the dogs through the difficult parts and in general the dogs try their hardest to engage me!! Sweet licks, eye contact!! and other forms of communication. It’s the best!! I always politely ask their humans to leave the room because they always want to try and reprimand the dog who’s acting up and then the dog goes crazy LOL. Sitting in the vets office is also hard when you know that if the owner would just stop petting and taking to the dog it might settle!! I think you might have mentioned that one in your book 🙂 Love your work.
Years ago we had a 90-pound Golden, Ester, who was a wild, crazy, and very physical puppy. She was sweet as pie and smart enough but loved to play practical “jokes” and loved to slam into people as “sport.” When she was a juvenile going through a particularly long stretch of “I’m going to bark at you if you aren’t doing what I want when I want it,” I would turn away and stand very still and wait. Her barking got lower and lower and often she would try to circle around to bark at my face. I would slowly circle around trying to keep my back to her. This turned into a game that I was clearly losing. Eventually, I had to physically leave her presence. But, I also remember her slamming into the back of my knees on occasion during my turning away. Buckled me right down to the ground. That made it especially hard to stay quiet! She turned into a wonderful dog and eventually became a gentle giant, but man, her puppy and adolescent years were a challenge — mostly physically for all who knew her.
I also tried this technique on Phoebe and it was truly ineffective. She’d get distracted by something — anything — and wander off, and we’d start the entire thing over the next day in the same or a different circumstance. It didn’t phase her a bit. I wonder if it works on dogs with certain predispositions or character traits more than others?
Sorry to hear about the doxy mishap, but glad it’s a precautionary dose. Olive is on doxy for testing positive to Anaplasmosis; she had a positive result several years ago and not since, so it’s not clear if it’s flaring up or anew.
I do have an off-topic question: Olive went to the vets for a dental exam and cleaning (and through the bloodwork they found the positive test result). However, the procedure was cancelled due to her running a fever of 104.1. We have been taking her temp rectally (poor and brave dear), and it has been running normal and even a little below. (Granted, she does have some teeth that are bad and the Anaplasmosis, but no temp at home.) We had not left her at the vets for many years. Could stress induce such a high temperature? My vet isn’t sure, so I thought I’d ask the village. Anyone have any experience with this?
Love, love, love the Shooting Star. I always think of Jack-in-the-pulpit as the original androgynist.
Ilene Segal says
Dear Trisha – thank you so much for your amazing and informative newsletter. I am a veterinarian with a strong interest in behavior, and am currently enrolled in the Dr. Ha’s UWA class, so I was able to hear your lecture. I was writing about Maggie’s paw – from your description, I suspect it is a corn, and they are incredibly painful. I would suggest a trip to the veterinarian!
Thanks so much Ilene! I have a great vet and I’m sure he’ll be a huge help! (Good news is that she is much better right now!)
LisaW: Wish I had a good answer to your question stress and high temps! Hoping the village comes through… (and sorry about the Anaplasmosis. Argh.)
Barbara L Kissack says
I learned this strategy from my second Golden Retriever, Fritha. When she was 5, I brought home Golden puppy, Prudie. And there were lots of mouth games with those two as is typical. One time they were hard at it, and Prudie must have been pinched or nipped. She yipped and then went at Fritha like a little buzz saw! Fritha just turned away and looked into the middle distance while the little buzz saw carried on barking, snarling and in a short time she stopped, looking a little puzzled. Then all was fine and they started playing again. And they never had another incident. I found it really useful in raising Prudie.. She is 12 now, and pretty close to perfect. 😊
I tried this with one dog who always barks as I’m getting the dog food ready. The dog food is in the basement and she stands at the top of the stairs and barks. I tried it for quite a long time, going still every time she barked, but she can’t resist a bark. I was aiming for no barks, but I got it limited down to just a few barks, which was better, but still, I really wanted no barks at all. I could actually see her struggling not to bark- the look on her face- want the food, but need to bark! I finally resorted to putting her on the porch before I go get the food, because for some reason she doesn’t bark there as I get the bowls filled up. Then she comes out and has her food.
The other thing I tried was having her come with me, then walk behind me, but that didn’t work for another reason- she’d wait until we were almost to the top and then dash past, nearly knocking me over with my hands full of dog bowls.
Also I tried putting her on a down stay but she can bark then too.
Not dog related, but … I couldn’t tolerate doxycycline either – until my physician prescribed the delayed release formulation. Maybe it’ll work for you, too.
ps – Love your blog – I’m always learning!
This worked so well on Kona when he was a pup. I eliminated the puppy biting in one sitting with just three removals of me I hoped on the bed where he couldn’t reach me for increasing intervals starting at 5 seconds and out to 30. He now has the gentlest mouth and even when excited a soft “gently” calms him right down in the mouthing/biting arena.
But… clever dogs learn from us and he tried it on me too. We did the general obedience and other training at a dog club and I thought it would be fun to give agility a try. I had him tied to the fence while we set up equipment and got instruction from our class leader – Kona and the other dogs barked and jumped trying to get our attention as I suppose they normally weren’t left to the side when we had lessons. Kona noted that barking wasn’t getting my attention so he too went silent and still. He then “fixed it” for me by chewing through his lead and coming to sit quietly next to me in a perfectly perfect heel position!
I’m a professional dog walker and I am very silent. I almost never verbally ask the dogs for anything except recall. I talk to them of course but not when it comes to training or behaviour modification as I find that with so many dogs from different homes it can just be a mess. Instead I silently solicit behaviour using treat lures and pair it with a hand signal. I’ve met many dogs and am always very quiet in my meet and greets and usually the owners are on a constant loop of shouting commands at an overly excited dog and always think it’s magic to see the dog so quickly respond to my silence. It’s definitely very effective
I love the wild flower pictures! We plant them in our small town yard. It was a great year for camas in SW Washington.
I find the silent treatmenf works well if Trixie dog wants something from me but not for self-rewarding behaviors like barking at the neighbors.
Wish it worked on cats but mine go straight to nuclear if my attention is needed. They shove full cups of coffee and vases of flowers towards edges, chew computer cords, and scratch and chew paperwork if I forget mealtime. I must respond!
As we said when living in the South, “Well, bless your heart!” I have a feeling that this technique is one I could use for my two barky dogs!! One starts barking and eggs on the other one until she starts up, (and visa versa!) And it drives me insane! I’ll have to give your method a try.
I was so happy to read this whole article and sent it immediately to a friend who is having this same problem with their first dog ever whom they love to bits.
Not engaging has been one of my best tools for a long time. It works on young children as well. When mine were small and being brats for the sheer joy of being brats they’d become invisible and only become visible again when the nice children returned.
People with the over-exuberant adolescent dog that continually jumps on everyone soliciting attention are amazed how quickly the dog stops jumping on me. Being jumped on is something I really dislike and I’m very clear with the dog that if they jump I’m turning away and not engaging but I’ll give them all the loving when they have four on the floor. Five minutes is the longest it’s ever taken a dog to figure that out.
I can think of many other times and ways I’ve used the don’t engage do nothing approach so now I’m wondering why I’ve never thought to try it with D’Artagnan the frustrated greeter. He’s convinced he should get to play with every dog we meet when out for a walk but his abbreviated play bow, leap, lunge, bark all at the same time isn’t really fun for anyone. I’m going to have to see what happens when instead of bracing myself for the inevitable or trying to turn him away or distract him I just refuse to be part of his nonsense. Worth trying anyway.
Wishing you and Maggie speedy recoveries.
Kerry, one other comment from friend and commenter Chris O’Brien (whose computer won’t let her in!). She mentioned, and I agree completely, that for ‘going silent’ to work, your dog has to be able to think about what is happening, and often, if they are over threshold and aroused, they just aren’t able to think much about anything. In that case, you’re best off removing him from the situation as best you can. (Try the Emergency UTurn I talk about in The Cautious Canine!) Let us know how it is going.
I have a leash reactive dog. As Kerry described and you confirmed, the silent method wouldn’t work for him since he is so far over threshold. But I do think there is something to be said for remaining calm. Something I am terrible at. Since he reacts intermittently, I’m always taken by surprise and I immediately start “barking” at him to stop while pulling back on the leash. I’m usually embarrassed by his behavior and feel an urgency to let the other person know I am not okay with his behavior. The result is a reactive dog AND a reactive human. He’s reacting to the other dog and I’m reacting to him. If I’m prepared then I have a treat to distract him and he knows what to do. Look at me and get a treat. But that takes forethought and preparedness which isn’t always the case. I feel like if I could teach myself to remain calm at least while trying to do a u turn or get his attention that might change the picture. I’m determined to try it, if I could just stop being reactive!
I’ve found it super helpful with these kinds of dogs to have taught an “Emergency U-Turn”. Teach it like a trick, use lots of treats in a completely neutral context. You and the dog turn 180 degrees as fast as you can, like a fun game. Then you can use that to get yourselves out of trouble. And you don’t need to say a thing, although I like “Let’s Go!” cuz it’s fun and relaxed.
Anne Johnson says
Finally, good advice often comes from you. I’ve been dealing with the jumping, leaping, barking goofball as I head out to the horses. Since I have an artificial left leg, I have to be extra careful where I walk. I tried running to the barn. Not going to happen! Haven’t been able to run on a tennis court, not going to outrun my Tank!. So, I have thought about this approach and read it from you somewhere. Going to give it a real try again, and consistently. What have I got to lose!
Melanie Hawkes says
Depending on the location, u-turns are hard for me in my wheelchair. Upton is on my left, so I have to turn right otherwise I run over him. But if there’s a fence or wall on my right I can’t turn easily. If I see the trigger first I can usually find somewhere to hide, but if Upton does it’s too late.
I have a feeling he’s worked out that if he barks, then sits on the mat he gets a treat. In these circumstances, I think doing nothing would be better. I’ve not been well this week, and have been talking much less, sometimes even whispering to him. He’s understood me perfectly well.
I’m glad Jim named your 4 wheeler. George is the best name! I name all my devices. In fact, I wrote a blog about it recently: https://www.pda.org.au/2021/04/27/my-assistive-technology/ A reader helped me name my wheelchair: Prince Chairming!
Yes! When our Bullmastiff Rosa was a puppy, I was getting her supper ready at the kitchen counter and she started barking at me to hurry up. I stopped and froze, she stopped barking, and it never happened again. That blew me away. We just got a new puppy this week and we’re trying ignoring her when she jumps on us and petting her when she sits down instead (which she seems to do on her own, we haven’t started training her to sit yet) and it is definitely working. It certainly doesn’t work for puppy nipping, though – there’s a limit, after all!!
I realize that I’m late to the party but I want to share my own insight about talking & training.
I’m not a talker. I select words for specific commands and use them carefully. Yet my dogs would seemingly read my mind and move before I even said the command. So I paid close attention to what they were doing. Well, they were paying close attention to me.
Apparently I have a habit of very quietly (under my breath) saying “okay” on the exhale before I inhale for the actual command. My dogs picked up on this and anticipated the next command.
Looks like I’m the one who needs more training!
” I wanted to suggest to him that he simply stop, stand still and be silent for a moment, but it wasn’t my place to interfere.” Well that’s the answer to my question I emailed you a few weeks ago. I didn’t hear back but kind of knew I shouldn’t say anything which is why I didn’t. (In case you don’t recall my question was what you would recommend if anything that I say to my friend and neighbor who proudly walks her dog off leash with a shock collar.) It’s so difficult for me to stay silent. Duece is a sweet dog and really doesn’t seem happy walking this way. Poor thing keeps his head cocked like he’s anticipating the correction. Anyway, sorry to be off topic but I wanted to thank you for the reminder that it’s not my place to interfere.
I was taught that technique in my feisty Fido course but completely forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder. Def going to try that again. He’s not very food driven and nothing is more rewarding to him then barking, but I do think it would help to give me something to do besides freaking out. 🙂 Thanks, Trisha!
Jenny Haskins says
The power of “remaining calm” is amazing.
What I call “yoga breathing”, and what Paul Owens calls ‘complete breathing’, not only works to calm our dogs, but also ourselves and those around us. It has recently been used with Hyperactive kids.
This is NOT mediation, but consciously controlled breathing patterns.
Leslie Sachlis says
I am so sorry to hear about your “doxy” experience. Because it is the “go to” preventive remedy for at least one tick borne disease, I will pass along what a pharmacist from a compounding pharmacy told me. He is certain that some of our issues with prescriptions are the carrier agent, not the active ingredient/drug prescribed. For that reason, when I go there he fills my RX with the pure drug. His other suggestions include eating frequent small meals and not getting dehydrated. This can include a bottle or two of electrolytes.
Silence is what saved one of our dog adoptions. Maggie came to us friendly, compliant, and with what I thought was a good understanding of many human words. Three days after she arrived, Willow (a friends dog who stayed with us whenever they went out of the country) arrived for a prearranged visit. The girls had a few choice words, but worked it out and became best friends. Willow taught her how to live here. Then Willow went home. Maggie then transformed into a non-compliant, pushy dog that barked orders at everyone. I am sure that her barking could be heard several blocks away from our home. She ignored us and continued to deafen us. We (all of us) ignored her right back. In less that forty-eight hours, she figured out other ways to communicate with us. That was when our real relationship began. She was seven years old when we adopted her and she passed away at the age of ten and half. It was a blessed three and half years thanks to silence.