5 Ways to Effectively Shut Down Your Dog
Let’s just mention that shutting down a dog isn’t a good thing. Have you ever felt completely shut down? Like you can’t be who you are, or that the things you have tried are simply not working at all?
I hear from a lot of frustrated people who are having a difficult time teaching their dog a new behavior. Especially a behavior that the dog has to want to do; like eye contact and focus, or putting his head down on command, or doing agility.
Dogs that “shut down” are dogs that walk away, lay down, ignore their owners and show no desire to show a new or existing behavior.
These dogs often show appeasement behaviors like staring at walls, looking away, or smiling because they don’t know what else to do, but they also don’t want to get into trouble.
And, I don’t think that people realize that THEY are the ones that are shutting their dogs down.
Sometimes this shutting down is due to how the dog was formerly trained or how the dog is currently trained.
Unfortunately previous bad training techniques can affect how willing a dog is to learn new behaviors.
So Let’s Get Started
5. Over Correcting
Frequently people are taught how to issue “leash corrections” when the dog is young and learning and the owner issues a command that the dog doesn’t follow or doesn’t follow fast enough.
Unfortunately some of these “leash corrections” are also used to teach the dog or the puppy.
Tell the puppy to sit, and if he doesn’t, pull up on the leash until the puppy’s butt hits the ground. In some cases the puppy doesn’t even know what “sit” means… so he hears a “command” or a cue from his owner and then he is yanked and choked into position.
This is not a positive way to learn and also it is not conducive to future learning!
Essentially for some dogs they wait for the owner to give a command and then prepare to be physically forced and manipulated into position.
To these dogs this is what “learning” is and if they do the wrong thing or make the wrong choice or don’t respond quickly enough they are “corrected” into position.
Put yourself in this dog’s paws and you will quickly understand how these practices would shut you down to learning and trying new things.
And, if you have trained this way in the past, it will take twice as much, if not more effort, to teach your dog a new and positive way of learning!
Another effective way to shut down a dog; especially an emotionally soft dog is to yell a lot!
Yelling often goes with anger, and most people have yelled at their dog once or twice… or perhaps more often.
I would like to say that I am exempt, however I am sure I have yelled on occasion.
Some dogs don’t care, you could yell until your blue (just another reason NOT to yell, because it is either going to traumatize your dog or he is probably going to just ignore you anyway.) but some dogs are very sensitive.
Let’s face it, getting angry and yelling is not good for your health either!
If you find yourself getting angry at your dog, I suggest you breathe deeply, reorient your mind; ask yourself WHY you are angry and try to find a more effective way of communication. After all, no one likes being yelled at.
And, some people actually yell commands when they train.
I, personally, like to whisper my commands or use a very soft voice. I don’t want my dog to have to rely on very loud commands because sometimes I am on the phone or speaking to someone else, and quiet commands also help me when I compete.
Although many people do it, I don’t like yelling a command for everyone to hear. I prefer to be the only one around who knows my dog didn’t respond to a command and if I am quiet enough I can reissue it with no one the wiser.
This One Time…
I remember one time I was in the agility ring, and agility is a bit difficult for me. I am used to telling a dog what he is doing or giving a command directly prior to the behavior.
In agility, you must tell your dog what to do WAY before he gets to the next jump or contact.
My dog started to veer off course, I panicked and yelled HERE. My dog literally stopped dead in her tracks and looked at me as if to say, “Why are you yelling? I am doing my best and exactly what you told me”. I knew it was my fault. I surprised her and shut her down. She then didn’t want to perform.
I don’t yell in the ring anymore ;)! I am very aware of my vocal level and do my best not to panic.
3. Get Easily Stressed
As mentioned previously, our own stress can cause our dogs to panic and wonder what is wrong.
If dog training fills you with stress, your dog will wonder what is wrong.
Dogs pay very close attention to our body language and everything we do. They learn that our smiling means we are happy, and that in fact we are not snarling at them and plotting their demise; after all dogs don’t usually smile at one another in happiness!
They learn when we are angry, irritated, sick, sad, happy and even uncomfortable or stressed.
And, if you are regularly stressed when you train, your dog will wonder what is wrong and he won’t enjoy the process.
These dogs would rather shut down in an attempt to get you to stop and ease your stress than continue working while you are stressed.
It’s not exactly fun to be around someone who is continually complaining or stressed about something.
Now we all have our bad days, but I suggest you avoid dog training on these days so that training is fun and not stressful.
2. Never Allow New Behaviors
When I am teaching my dogs a new behavior I allow them to make all kinds of mistakes.
I don’t care if he or she tries a dozen different behaviors in an attempt to be rewarded.
My only rule is that the dog doesn’t put his or her teeth on my skin, that is the only misbehavior that I will correct.
If my dog runs through all his or her tricks, I don’t care; I either wait him out or help him to perform the behavior I want.
But many people aren’t patient.
If the dog doesn’t by miracle pick the behavior intended, the owner corrects, gets irritated or frustrated, or is short tempered with the dog.
This keeps these dogs from trying new behaviors.
When I was teaching Service Dogs, we often had to wait and wait and wait for the dog to do the right thing. Often we would chain the behaviors together so that the dog could be more quickly rewarded.
1. You Don’t Reward Soon Enough or Often Enough
Many times people simply don’t reward fast enough or often enough.
Let’s face it, if you are to learn something new, it is important to know you are doing it right or at least on the right track.
If no one helps you with your learning, and expects you to know if you are right or wrong; you might get frustrated and give up too.
I am about to teach myself how to put a new engine in an old truck, I need someone to help me with this process and if I don’t have help I’ll have to pay to have it put in; figuring it out on my own, alone would be too frustrating.
So if your dog is shutting down on you and you don’t fit into any of the other categories, perhaps you aren’t rewarding fast enough or often enough and your dog simply doesn’t know what to do.
If you expect your dog to learn a complicated behavior, he may need to learn step by step instead of waiting for him to perform the whole behavior.
If I am teaching a Service Dog to turn on a light, I don’t wait for him to go over, jump on the wall and perform the behavior in and of itself; that is kind of a ridiculous idea if you think about it in those terms.
I’ve never seen a dog simply offer this behavior.
Instead, I reward my dog for looking at the light switch, then for jumping on the wall, then for touching the light switch, etc. And, this may be a several week process before your dog understand the whole behavior in its entirety.
The key to keeping your dog stimulated is making it fun!
Keep it fun, keep it rewarding and keep it attainable!
I reward often and play even more often.
My dogs work because they think “training” is “playing” and if you tried to convince them otherwise they would laugh in your face.
I allow them to make mistakes and often encourage it, because to me the willingness to be wrong shows me that they are comfortable learning and willing to go above and beyond to get me to engage and play with them!
And, the more fun training is for both of you the more often you will make time to train!
If it’s fun, it will never seem like work!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.