Placating your pooch

3 minute read
14 Sep 2013
12:00 pm

Placating your pooch

The one method I find exceptionally important for application in a veterinary waiting room, at home near the front door or in the lounge when visitors arrive, is the subtle control of the lead by placing the dog in a "down" position and standing on the lead taut enough so the dog's head is very close to your foot thus preventing it from getting up to demand attention.

Initially some dogs show extreme resistance and may even struggle but by totally ignoring the rejection it will settle down, maybe panting a bit from anxiety and restraint, and will realise it is not going anywhere and will resort to lying down in a relaxed posture.

This gives the handler full control and total respect from the dog. Once settled and the head is resting on the front paws a gentle, quiet reward will reinforce the dog’s desire to accept this more readily next time round. As mentioned earlier, this can be done in the entrance hall a few metres from the front door where you will be upright and standing on the lead while someone else opens the door for family or visitors. It is imperative that the people coming through are also primed beforehand to take notice of the dog in a ventrally recumbent position.

The training should commence in areas where there are no distractions from other dogs, children and other disturbing activities. You can sit on the floor with your back up against a wall or couch, encourage the dog to lie with you. Some breeds can then be gradually turned onto their backs with the belly exposed.

Thin breeds such as greyhound types may find this uncomfortable so lying them on their sides is acceptable. In this position the dog can be cradled and must gradually accept your handling, restraint and calmness. Speak with a calm voice and give a quiet, slow, gentle release after each session. A treat may be offered and you will find very soon that the dog will readily move into these positions because of the benefits.

Another calming method is to sit on a chair with the dog between your legs facing away. After placing both hands around the chest for a while you can gently and slowly move your fingers so the dog does not feel threatened by sudden harsh handling. After a while you can slowly lift the dogs chest and front limbs from a sitting to a begging position.

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Initially raise the feet only slightly off the ground and by successive approximation you can increase the height until the front feet and chest is level with the seat of the chair. When this posture is eventually attained, praise the dog when it relaxes. If, at any stage, you feel any tension lower the feet until it builds sufficient confidence to be held like this for five minutes or more. The floor must never be slippery for this exercise.

A dog that is trained to relax is easier to groom and a wonderful pet for a veterinarian to examine. Dog owners applying these calming methods will also learn to relax and if both of you fall asleep on the floor it is not a tragedy. You will be sharing a rewarding and meaningful interaction which augurs well for the human-animal bond. A calm dog usually has no behaviour problems and a calm owner usually no complaints.

The entire mind-set of settling down must be a lifestyle change for dog owners. People need to learn how to behave if their dogs are to follow suit. Perhaps, pet owners subscribing to yoga classes for relaxation and meditation may complement the conversion of their dogs from hooligans to socially acceptable pleasurable companions.

Arousal can also be demonstrated by barking, yapping and other forms of excessive vocalisation. Shouting at the dog is useless because it has got no clue what you are angry about nor can it speak your language. When your dog approaches for attention only respond if it is relaxed.

High-energy exercises outdoors or in parks are permitted but then the dog must learn to settle down quickly afterwards. This can be learnt on command by being consistent with the words ‘settle down’ whenever the appropriate behaviour is in place and a reward is offered usually with a calm command, a pat on the head and a treat. Who would not respond to this favourably?

As a rule always reward your dog for calm behaviour and ignore bad behaviour.