GO TO YOUR BED!

Remember when you were a kid, got in trouble and your parents told you to “GO TO YOUR BED (or room)!” Well, instead of a negative thing, sending your dog to their bed is a very positive trick, giving your dog confidence, routine, and a calm corner to relax.

I am revisiting an old trick I haven’t practiced in a while-sending my dog to her “bed”. This can be very important for all dogs, especially fearful dogs. There are many dogs who need a “cool down” or “calm” area, away from kids, stress and distractions. There are many dogs that can be possessive of space-they don’t like when you are too close walking by or need a space where no one can bother them when they are tired. Perhaps they need a space to go when the door bell is suddenly rang by someone delivering a package. Dog beds can be used as a safe space, a place to rest, to eat bones, and to practice routine.

Oreo, my reactive dog does not enjoy guests unless they are close family she is very familiar with such as my parents or sister. If someone like a delivery man approaches the door the usual reaction is barking and pacing. My goal is to give her something to do-SOMETHING ELSE besides reacting in an undesirable way. This can be very helpful if you have the bed behind a dog gate, once your dog goes in there to their bed, you simply treat, close the gate and answer the door.

Does your dog jump up, beg, or stare you down while you are eating? Mine doesn’t always, but after some trips to her grandparents house where they fed her some food from the table, she developed some habits which are fine, but can be solved with a dog bed. Instead of staring at us, she will learn to go lay down on her bed and relax, that will keep her calm and she will be rewarded with a treat there, but not from the table.

Do you have kids or even a spouse or friend who makes you nervous around your dog? Well, if you are nervous that your dog will react the wrong way-think of how your dog feels! A simple way to solve this problem is to teach anyone who comes into your house that the dog bed area is off limits-a dog gate would even be better so they CAN’T get to them. If you are nervous or you see your fearful dog is nervous-send them to their bed. They will feel more confident for completing the trick.

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Okay, enough with the many reasons, let’s learn how to send them to their bed. There are two different ways.

Way 1: 

1. Decide on what you would like to call your trick-“Go to bed,” “Go to mat,” “Go to cushion” and so on. We always taught her bed is when she travels into our room at night, and my husband’s name is Matt-so that won’t work. We picked “Go to cushion.” Go near the dog bed and say “Go to bed,” and place a treat there or lure your pup with a treat.  Use a clicker or a word maker like “Yes!” when your pup is on the bed (release the treat if you are holding it for your pup to eat).

2. Encourage your dog to lay on the bed by saying “down” or whatever word you use for that trick. When they lay down click or say yes and treat. It’s best to teach them to lay on the bed, this way they can relax and you may want to continue to teach them more to the trick-like staying on the bed for periods of time.

3. Continue practicing having your pup on the bed by saying, “Go to bed” before they actually are on the bed. Use a treat to lure them and they will associate the bed with the signal “Go to bed.”

4. When they seem to get this, start asking them to “Go to bed” without the lure sometimes. Eventually, with practice you can fade the use of luring, and treat after they do the trick. They will no longer need to even know you have a treat. You can practice this from short distances and work your way up to more challenging tasks like having your dog “Go to bed” when you are in any area of your house. Eventually you can have them “Go to bed” with many different distractions happening at once.

Way 2:

1. If you like shaping or “catching your dog in the act,” this is the way for you. When you see your dog do anything near the dog bed (look at it, step on it, sit on it, stand on it, get near it) you click and treat.

2. You continue this “game” until your dog starts to realize good things are happening near the dog bed. Eventually your pup will realize being on the bed is when brings treats. You can continue shaping to add a sit or lay down.

Whatever way you chose, the trick not only helps your dog stay calm, but can help keep your dog safe. I will continue working with my pup on this and let you know how it goes! If you have taught your dog this trick, how did it work out?

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Counter Conditioning-Cool!!

The ASPCA defines counter conditioning as “re-teaching the pet to have a pleasant feeling and reaction toward something that he once feared or disliked.” Counter conditioning is VERY valuable in training, especially with fearful dogs. Here’s how it works:

1. Identify what your dog is fearful of (men in hats, skateboards, large brown dogs, and so on)

2. Get yummy treats (cheese, chicken, steak, something special).

3. Expose your dog to their fear in a controlled environment (ask a friend to help or do training at class). If not, then go somewhere your dog can see/experience the fearful event at a very safe and far distance.

4. Make sure you expose them at a far distance. If you were fearful of snakes would you want a snake thrown on you? NO! You would start seeing it at a distance first. You need to figure out what your dog’s threshold is. Do they get scared of a dog 50 feet away? 20 feet? 10 feet? When does your dog go from being confident to being worried to completely losing it (barking, snarling, hiding)? You want to find the point when your dog is a little worried, but not losing it.

5. When you have your distance, give your pup those yummy treats when she/he sees that scary thing. Don’t give it to them when the scary thing is gone, only when it’s there. You want your pup to associate the GOOD TREAT with something scary-this way your dog will come to have a neutral or positive reaction towards it. Example: You work on looking at dogs at a distance. Your dog gets nervous 30 feet away. You bring your dog to a park and see a dog 30 feet away. Your dog looks at the dog, you click (use a clicker or a word to signal food), then deliver the treat. You work on this for days, weeks, or even months depending on how well your dog does. Eventually your dog sees a dog and looks up at you-YAY! Your dog EXPECTS GOOD THINGS when they see other dogs!

6. Once your dog is okay at a certain distance, get closer. So now we move to 25ft away instead of 30. We work on this the same way with treats until the dog expects treats at this level and doesn’t show signs of being overly nervous.

7. Continue until you get closer. Not all dogs are meant to get super close to other dogs or what they fear. Don’t push the dog TOO MUCH. Take baby steps & think of what your dog needs. Does your dog NEED to be close to other dogs all the time? Does your dog need to greet dogs? I know my dog was attacked by another dog and isn’t comfortable playing or greeting other dogs. Has she greeted them since the attack and through training? Yes she has, however, I don’t feel the need to push her anymore-She’s okay with them being 10ft + away, and that works for both of us.

Counter conditioning allows your dog to associate something scary with something good. This turns something horrifying into something yummy and fun. When Oreo finds something scary she knows where to look-at me for yummy treats and we keep moving on our walks.

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What Reactive Owners ARE…

I wouldn’t say Oreo is “rehabilitated” or “normal” in any way. I’d definitely say her stress levels are way down & our family has it’s own happy “normal.” Oreo now has the tools and knowledge to deal with stressful situations and I know not to put her in them (or how to do a U-turn and escape them)!

It can be VERY stressful (especially in the beginning) with a reactive or scared dog. Not only stressful for you, but your dog is suffering. After reading some posts on forums, blogs and conversations with new or ongoing reactive dog families, I find it’s important to keep things in perspective. Reactive owners are many things…

  1. RESOURCEFUL!!  Find a positive trainer to help you. Trust me, if you find a great one they make all the difference. They are not only a teacher for your dog, but for you.
  2. SPECIAL!! Reactive dogs take SPECIAL owners. DEDICATED owners. Owners who have strength, patience, and are willing to LEARN.
  3. TRUSTING!! If you aren’t sure if your dog is reactive, do some research. Reactive owners need to TRUST THEIR GUT. Sometimes families and friends might think you are crazy. They think you are obsessing over your dog. They might say something like, “Your dog will be fine, bring them to the party.” Well, YOU KNOW WHAT’S BEST. When reactive dog owners DOUBT something, THEY STAY ON THE SAFE SIDE.
  4. SMART!! If your trainer is booked for a while, or you’re saving up to bring your dog to lessons, READ SOME BOOKS. I recommend this. I trained my dog by reading many books, then brought her to a wonderful reactive trainer who wrote some of the books. This enabled me to have some understanding and be ahead of the game. BOOKS DO NOT REPLACE A TRAINER. The advice/training saved my dog’s life. Even the vet said that Oreo would be dead if she weren’t with me. I don’t think of it as just me…
  5. ORGANIZED!! IT TAKES A CITY, not just you to help your dog. Get in touch with a trainer, work with your vet. Sometimes medications can help to improve training, especially if you are training with a professional and your dog hits a road block. Get your FAMILY ON BOARD. Everyone has to learn and train with your pup.
  6. FUN!! HAVE FUN. Sometimes with reactive dogs we forget to have fun-especially when we are in the training mode. Your dog can get better, but it is hard work. Once you start training your pup the fun can begin. There are plenty of games, tricks, and fun things you can do with your reactive dog. Reactive owners like to have fun, don’t lose that joy in the stress.

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If you’re just starting out it can seem like your are climbing Mount Everest, but with dedication and time you will be building an unbreakable bond with your pup and they will teach you more than you ever dreamed.

Books I suggest reading:

  • Scaredy Dog by Ali Brown
  • Focus Not Fear-Training Insights From A Reactive Dog Class by Ali Brown
  • The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell
  • Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
  • Bringing Light to Shadow by Pam Dennison
  • Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde