This dog moves around me as I sit quietly in the chair. I do not fidget or shuffle. I am talking as I teach, but if I were alone with him I would be silent. I’m observing him closely. He doesn’t so much as glance at me, his attention is everywhere else. I considered three of my options:
Option 1: I could make him stop moving.
My first methods way back when were correction-based so I know the drill. I could correct him for his pacing and circling. And he would stop.
If I took that approach, I would expect to earn myself a tense dog who was seated, probably at a distance and facing away from me, possibly rapidly panting, face wrinkled, still looking elsewhere. This gets you some physical control but, in my opinion and experience, creates little meaningful shift in a dog’s mind or spirit.
Option 2: I could wait for him to decide to stop moving on this own.
Marking each moment of calm and rewarding it well. And that may, over time, help him learn how to find his way out of stress when he wants to, but it probably will not help him to take a new road/make a whole new choice when stress happens. So, if I simply wait, what are the probable results?
If I took this approach, I would expect to earn a dog who continued to do what he was doing.
Option 3: I could set things up so he starts to make a new choice when he becomes stressed.
This holds the best chance, in my experience, of creating a whole new pattern in a dog’s mind and heart. It’s an approach in which you must be present with and for the dog, adjusting moment to moment with where the dog seems to be and what he is doing.
To go this route, you must be committed to your goal while never making it so rigid that you give the dog something to argue with. You must be ready to stay calm, as the dog has his own expectations about what you will do. You must be completely unattached to how long it takes while completely attached to his process.
It has been pointed out to me that I make many decisions with my leash every minute and that those are tough to explain. This is true, especially with these types of dogs. When to ask for a bit more because the dog can probably give it, when to give a little as the dog needs a little room, when to brace my hand without locking it, when to go with his flow while persistently suggesting my own. I am sure my leash work is a partial result of all those years holding reins in my hands.
Next installment of this series will describe what I did and why. I hope you find this helpful.
by Sarah Wilson