I was recently on a plane returning from our Annual Staff Retreat to Orlando, Florida and noticed a very curious, all-too-familiar scene unfold in the seat beside me:
A woman in her early 30’s had a young toddler on her lap. As they sat down in the seat next to me, the daughter was quickly enthralled by a video clip on her mom’s iPad. While on the tarmac, the wireless reception was still working and the daughter joyously watched the videos play on a loop. As soon as we began to back away from the gate, the stewardess asked all passengers to turn their cellular devices to “airplane mode”, therefore disconnecting the wireless signal — and causing us to lose the ability to play videos.
The young girl immediately started to sob, and the stewardess quickly ran over to help occupy the little girl with some plastic cups. Great idea on her part, and I’m sure the passengers nearby were appreciative of her quick thinking!
The plastic cups kept the girl quiet for about 30 minutes, and then the novelty wore off. Like clockwork, with nothing to keep her busy, the daughter quickly began to cry again. Her mom handed her a sticker book and the girl began placing stickers all over her mom’s arms and hands. Silence once again fell over the cabin.
This sequence went on and on throughout the duration of the flight. Anytime the little girl had something “fun to do”, she was a perfect angel. The second the fun ended, she began having fits and sobbing uncontrollably. When another activity entered the picture, the tantrums immediately subsided.
I say this is all-too familiar — even though I do not have children of my own — because it is reminiscent of what my clients approach me with on a daily basis. You may be in the same boat if:
- You walk your dog for miles and miles each day to ensure they are tired. On the off-chance that your dog does not get their typical walk, they behave terribly because they didn’t get enough exercise.
- You play fetch with your dog for an hour to keep them busy, then have to hop on the computer to write some emails. Your dog decides to chew the furniture because they were bored.
- You pet your dog anytime you sit in the living room to watch a movie. Then one day your friend stops by and you sit down to chat. Your dog mouths your hands, barks, and jumps on you and your guest because they no longer have the spotlight.
You mean well by your dog. You try to wear them out with lots of exercise, keep them busy with toys and play, and show them love by giving them affection and attention. Unfortunately, you are doing your dog, and yourself, a huge disservice in the process. By following down this path, you are missing out on teaching your dog the art of doing NOTHING.
Teaching your dog to have an “off-switch” is at the core of having good manners. Whether you have guests over, or just want to relax after a long day at work, it pays off in spades to own a dog that knows how to self-soothe and be calm and relaxed all on their own. You want to strike a balance between your dog knowing when it’s time to play or run or cuddle, and being able to settle down when you are busy without having to worry about your dog acting up.By integrating these calming activities throughout your day, your dog will master the art of patience. Click To Tweet
Here are a few tips to teach your dog to be calm:
- A simple calming exercise: Have your dog on a leash connected to a flat buckle collar by your side while you are seated. Now, step on the leash so your dog is on a short leash and can just stand upright, but not easily turn or move around. Here’s the most critical part — you completely ignore your dog! Do not look at them, talk to them, give them a command, or pet them. You can only interrupt your dog if they begin biting the leash (try a simple “eh-eh” sound). Otherwise, it is important to ignore them so that they can learn to self-soothe.
- Use food to reward calm: Most people associate treat-training with high energy activities, but you can actually use food to train a dog to be calmer. Clicker training works great in achieving this! While you are hanging out with your dog, ignore them if they begin to demand attention from you. As soon as they settle down or occupy themselves with a toy, you can click and give them a treat. They will likely now be up and staring at you, waiting for the next treat! Go right back to ignoring them and wait until you see calm or appropriate behavior once more, then click and treat. Your dog will quickly learn that they get treats when they are being patient and calm, rather than bugging you to play with or pet them.
These exercises are super easy, yet highly effective. By integrating activities like this throughout your day, your dog will master the art of patience and calmness. You won’t have to feel constantly exhausted trying to entertain your dog to keep them from wreaking havoc in your home. The peace of mind that comes from owning a well-mannered dog is invaluable, and you’ll love your dog that much more knowing that they will make good choices… even on the days when you skip that 3-mile jog or doggie daycare!