Chilling out a puppy
September 12, 2014 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What are your tips for getting a young dog to chill out and react reasonably to a situation he finds VERY EXCITING? Our 7 month old puppy is dragging our arms out of our sockets every time we drop him off at doggie daycare, and it's making me nuts.

Our awesome but impossibly high-energy sled dog mutt puppy Kesugi loves the doggie daycare we take him to occasionally (1-2x/week). So much so that he is completely losing his mind in the car and in the parking lot when we drop him off, pulling and yanking HARD and basically spinning in circles with excitement. He's a pretty big dog now, about 50 lbs., which means this can't continue; he is strong and I am small. It's also really embarrassing to have an out-of-control dog when we get inside the building.

I always have lots of high-value treats with me any time he's on a leash since we are still working hard on loose leash walking. This works okay most of the time but even ham and cheese cannot compete with OH MY GOD THE OTHER DOGS ARE JUST INSIDE!! He also normally has a pretty good "wait" to get out of the car, but all bets are off in this situation.

We are working on lots of basic training with him and taking him to class with other dogs to practice with them as distractions 1x/week. I will ask the trainer about this situation when I go back next week. In general, he does great with commands at home, but then won't do much when there are distractions, especially other animals.

I realized today I am going to have to go back to the lot with him on a day we're not doing daycare so that I can work with him in the lot without the time pressure of me having to get to work. Not taking him to daycare is not an option; when we both work days, the other option is him crated in the house for 8+ hours. What's the best way to approach this? What I have him do when I take him back there this weekend with the intention of working on this? Any other tips for working with a pull-crazy puppy?
posted by charmedimsure to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Loose leash walking practice will help with this. In particular, you've got to practice, at daycare and otherwise, NOT inadvertently giving in to get the situation over with. It's really easy for a dog to learn "I pull, we go!" as the way the leash works, either in all situations, or just in exciting ones. Get him out of the car, stay put. Let him flip out at the end of the leash. Don't move. Don't say anything - you don't need commands here. You also don't need treats, because you have a great reward RIGHT THERE: getting to go play with other dogs.

I'd start by just trying to get him to settle down, butt planted to the ground, before I moved an inch in the parking lot, and then try to shape that into loose-leash walking all the way into the day care over time.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:33 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

We had good luck with a no pull dog harness for our dog. She still is a bit tuggy at times but it helped quite a bit.
posted by Captain_Science at 11:35 AM on September 12, 2014

Easy-Walk Harness for starters. Then be patient and do your best to be consistent and calm. A seven month old pup is not going to be aces on the leash all the time.
posted by notyou at 11:39 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We do have an Easy Walk harness, which he still can pull with, because he is a pull genius, just not *quite* as hard. We have considered a Gentle Leader, but in most contexts with the leash he's getting okay enough that we haven't done it yet.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:41 AM on September 12, 2014

First, what an amazing picture.

Second, I'm a small person and I had two 40lb-ish dogs that liked to pull. deludingmyself has the right approach. I made them lay all the way down and stay before I would continue walking. If they (well, mostly she) flipped out again, we stopped and I made them lay down. The initial tug at the sight of another dog never completely stopped (though I wasn't 100% consistent), but it was greatly reduced and definitely manageable.

You need to do this now now now before your dog gets any bigger.
posted by desjardins at 11:42 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

What deludingmyself and desjardins are describing is a Say Please training. The idea is to teach your dog that all good things come from being calm and polite. Training in the lot when you don't have time pressure is a good idea, but you'll also find that you can work the Say Please concept with everything in his life and he'll be able to generalize that to daycare dropoffs. As you work on this, remember: do not reward him for going nuts by letting him go into daycare.
posted by medusa at 12:00 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Take him for a huge long walk BEFORE you go to daycare so he's tired to start with. Then when approaching stop moving when he pulls, do not tug his lead just stop, use a phrase or word you want for walking nicely. I use "walk nice" with my Rat Terrier who gets lazer focus & wants to chase all the things. When my dog still won't break focus using this method I will then turn around and walk further away from the stimulus until he calms down, then slowly start walking back. I found clicker training my dog helped because I could "mark" exactly the behaviour I wanted to reinforce, so even if he only stopped pulling for a second he's get a click as a reward/mark.

The above can take ages at first for it to "click" with the dog what you want and be prepared for some weird looks. I spent half an hour at the dog park once trying to get my dog to walk calmly to the gate without yodelling like I was killing him.

Make every walk a training walk, do not let him pull in any situation if you can avoid it. Teaching him loose lead walking in a calmer less exciting situation will give him more idea what you want at the daycare.
posted by wwax at 12:06 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your buddy is forgetting who's boss. I've owned many dogs and with every one, from the get-go, I've never let them be in charge. As a result I've owned many wonderfully behaved dogs.

In addition to the above:

- Always make them sit and stay while you put their food down.

- Always make them sit and stay when you go through a door, or come to a corner when walking.

- Now bear with me on this one. Always exert dominance when they decide to be a bit bossy. Roll them over on their back, exposing their belly, and don't let them up. I also often do this by getting down on their level, rolling them over and then lying on them a bit.

The key is to never give in to them.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:09 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The easiest, quickest fix for this is totally the gentle leader; we have an excitable Lab mutt that did/does the same thing. Bro just tugs on leashes like he's a husky mushing a sled. Gentle leader remedied the problem on the first walk around the block, and we've used it ever since.

Training, and him just plain old getting older help quite a bit, but not immediately as the gentle leader. They're fantastic, and most dogs I know don't really care that they have to wear it. Ours gets pretty goddamn stoked when we pull it out, and its always a battle vs the happy dog energy to actually get it on, but once it is, he's a very well behaved dog.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:13 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Roll them over on their back, exposing their belly, and don't let them up. I also often do this by getting down on their level, rolling them over and then lying on them a bit.

Please don't do this. This is very confrontational and aversive punishment for what sounds like normal puppy behavior. Punishment like this can result in an anxious, fearful dog who doesn't trust you.

Reward desirable behaviors. Do not reward undesired behaviors. The reward must consistently follow the desired behavior. Clicker training is great, as is Nothing in Life is Free (NILF) / Say Please training.
posted by Seppaku at 12:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [13 favorites]

The Gentle Leader is called the 10-minute miracle for a reason. Unfortunately, once you use it a couple of times, you'll never need it again, that's how well it works.
posted by Brittanie at 1:22 PM on September 12, 2014

An additional point - it's a sled dog, bred to run. My dog loves to run, and pulls as hard as she can on her leash until we're started on her run and she's burned off some of that energy. Then she's a lot more amenable to keeping pace with me, and listening to my commands. You have to wear out your dog more, and walking just isn't vigorous enough to do it within a reasonable amount of time.
posted by lizbunny at 1:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Don't worry, we are very aware that with this dog, walking does diddly. We bike with him (at a trot, not a gallop, as per vet's instructions), rollerblade, have off-leash dog park/frisbee time, hike off-leash or take him to the day care every. single. day. The only thing that can get him exhausted is the day care or a long hike off-leash; if we hike 10 miles, he'll hike 100.

It all just makes him stronger. And harder to tire out. Oh, god, what have we done?

I will be honest and admit that there is just about zero chance that we will get in anything that is enough to get him tired before I drop him off at the daycare place at 7:10 AM; I do not have it in me to get up even earlier than I already do.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:01 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hitch him.

Take the leash, and run it down his spine until you get to some point between his rib cage and hips. Loop the leash all the way around his body, and underneath the stretch on his spine, creating a sort of noose that will tighten as he pulls.

This won't hurt him, and is unpleasant enough that he will stop pulling unless he is totally impervious to pain.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:07 PM on September 12, 2014

Best answer: Our dog is getting slightly better at this. The trick was to use "going into the daycare area" as the reward. She doesn't get go into the front door until she sits and waits (door gets closed if she gets up before I say, "okay." Then she has to keep the leash loose to get closer to the inner door (where the fun happens). Sometimes the people at the front desk will make her sit for a treat before they take her in. She'll sit, they put the treat in her mouth, and then she sets it down on the floor and waits for them to open the door and take her in. It's a little weird because even though she is sitting (she knows that she doesn't get to go in until she sits still) but it's almost like she vibrates with excitement. I'm convinced that I could get her to deal cards as long as the reward was that she gets to go through the door.
posted by VTX at 4:14 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Dogs are virtually invulnerable to pain around their lower necks. Puppies, whose teeth are like needles, constantly play with each other by biting there.

Where humans put a collar is unfortunately both the most convenient place (to secure the animal) and the least responsive place (for even a well-behaved dog who wants to behave to respond to).

Imagine that you need to get someone's attention while they are distracted. You can: tap their shoulder, tickle their belly, poke them in the ribs... but tugging on a dog's collar is the equivalent of stroking their thumbnail. Not unfeelable, but hardly attention-grabbing.

If you wrap the leash (after it leaves the collar) under their "armpits" and then back up under the collar, pulling on the leash will tug on their vulnerable spots. THAT will get their attention. And as a bonus, if the puppy continues pulling it will pull its forelegs completely off the ground, greatly reducing its traction power.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2014

Response by poster: Okay! Thanks for the help, everyone. Hitching was a decent stop-gap, but the Gentle Leader is a total game-changer. With it, he was a different dog on walks this week (walks that come only after some Frisbee time so he's a little less crazed). He still has a "WTF, mom?" moment with it every 15 minutes where he tries to paw it off for a second, but we push through it with cheese.

What can't you push through with cheese, really?
posted by charmedimsure at 11:29 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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