|Take a Deep Breath|
By: Gillian Ridgeway AHT
We all know that we need to get our point across to our pups, that we need to show them that we are indeed in charge. Not just in charge of their physical needs, but in charge of showing them which behaviours are appropriate and which won’t be tolerated by family, friends and the general public.
As all puppy owners know, puppies like to test us. They love to show us that they have the gumption to stand up for themselves and, in a few instances, this is a good thing. It is nice to have a pup that is self-confident and who trusts and understands us but the journey to accomplish this can be a rocky road indeed!
Long gone are the days when it was commonplace to do "alpha roll-overs." This is a term coined by many dog professionals in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Most trainers, back in the old days, thought that this was the way to get a dog to submit, to look like an obedient dog. We know better now and never has the phrase "When you know better, you do better" been more accurate.
Just because a dog training technique seemed to have worked in the past, it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. There is so much more information available to dog professionals these days than just a short 20 years ago. There are many seminars and workshops available to educate those who educate. What a fabulous opportunity to learn and understand dog behaviour. It is never a good idea to figure that you already know everything there is to know. This is not to say that the seminar speakers are the gurus of dog behaviour and training techniques. But by simply attending these functions, it shows that the participants are open to new suggestions, some of which will be useable, and some will not.
When looking for a trainer for your pup, ask for credentials and ask about inclusion in dog trainers’ associations and continuing education. This will help you choose someone who is current on the best techniques and which work the best with the least chance of harm to your dog.
So, why is it unacceptable to perform an "alpha roll-over" (pinning a puppy on his back until he submits) and drawing the conclusion that if he bites or struggles he is a "dominant pup" and therefore requires more discipline? The main reason is that this procedure will very quickly destroy all the trust your pup has in you. We see the result each time this technique is used. We see the look in the pup’s eyes change with the length of time it is held down. A switch seems to go off, and when it does, the pup appears to struggle and fight for its life.
Think about it. You know you have a point that you will stop, but the puppy does not have this information. A primal instinct to survive rises to the surface and the puppy seems to fight even harder. This causes an escalating battle scene which, in most cases, will be won by the owner. Yes, the puppy will eventually stop struggling, but does the end justify the means when there are other exercises available to help puppy understand that you’re in charge and you’re not tolerating their temper tantrums?
If we think about it from a human point of view, we can relate it to child rearing. Many times, when children have gotten themselves into such a state, their parent will ask them to take a deep breath. We all know that taking a deep breath can help alleviate most emotional states.
Can we really teach our puppies to exhale? Absolutely.
Teaching a puppy the "settle" exercise will allow you to regain focus and redirect your pup without a big battle. This has the added bonus of showing your pup that you are in charge, that you say what you mean and mean what you say, and that his tantrums are not acceptable. The difference is that it can be done in such a way that you do not cause trauma to the pup or get yourself bitten in the process. And, to be honest, settle is a nice exercise, so why not give it a go?
To teach settle, kneel on the ground with your pup in front you. Hold the collar on both sides using both hands but with your last 3 fingers only. Cup the pup’s chin in your hands. Then massage his ears with your thumbs and index fingers and in a nice, slow motion while slowly and calmly repeating the word "Settle." It’s not said as a command, but rather in a soothing tone.
This sounds pleasant but, in fact, the pup can become quite vocal and try to squirm out of your hands. Rest assured that you are not hurting him and he is just testing to see if you will let go. By being on your knees, you will be able to manipulate the pup more easily. It is important that you don’t let go – just keep rubbing his ears and speaking softly. After a few minutes, you will feel your pup exhale and that is the moment that you slowly let go. This is not to say that you are pleased with your pup’s behaviour. On the contrary, you may even feel yourself becoming quite upset with puppy, but it is important to continue with the exercise.
Over time, you will be able to take your pup’s collar and say "settle" in a nice tone and have your pup take a deep breath and calm down. The settle exercise can be practiced a few times a day, while the puppy is calm. It is the same as any other word you teach: it can’t be fully used until it is taught.
If your pup acts up during the few weeks it takes to teach settle, you might consider popping him in his crate or tethering him to a doorknob. (Don’t worry that he’ll see this as punishment. He has to accept the consequences of his actions and crating or tethering are not too severe.) Then, go and prepare a chamomile tea, get a good magazine and take a deep breath yourself. You’ve earned it!