Written by Melissa Viera
Sit, stay, come! With so many things to teach your dog it is not always easy to know where to start. Everyone has different training goals, and a different idea of how a well behaved dog should act. No matter what you plan on training your dog, there is one skill that is extremely important for all dogs to learn. Once they learn this skill training other behaviors will go a lot more smoothly.
Calmness could be the most important skill that your dog learns to have. A calm dog is relaxed in new environments, around different people and other dogs, and in the presence of distractions. A calm dog is not overly "excited", or nervous. They can focus and learn new things with ease. If this does not sound like your dog, don't worry there are a few things you can do to reinforce calm behaviors, and get more of them.
In order to be calm, dogs must also be well exercised and receive daily mental stimulation. It would be difficult for anyone to practice being calm without also having an outlet for releasing energy on a regular basis. With a dog who is exercised regularly and has many outlets for engaging their mind you can capture and reinforce calmness along with practice training exercises that require calmness from the dog.
One exercise for teaching calmness is to use capturing techniques to catch your dog being calm. It is easy to pay attention to dogs who are being destructive, begging for attention, or running wild around the house, but they often get forgotten about when they are doing the one thing we would love them to do more; relaxing and being calm. Of course dogs enjoy our attention, and they are good at finding ways to get more of it. Practice rewarding your dog every time they are being calm instead of only paying attention to undesired behaviors. Walk by and drop a treat when they least expect it, offer a belly rub to your dog, or give them some love and praise for being calm on their own. The first few times your dog will likely spring up at the slightest hint of attention. Wait patiently and don't give them attention until they settle again. It won't be long until they catch on. If calmness gets reinforced your dog will learn to be calm more often.
Observe your daily interactions with your dog. To avoid reinforcing undesired behaviors wait for calmness before doing things like putting the leash on, feeding, getting in the car, and so on. When you come home from work wait for your dog to settle before saying hello. Even though we miss our dogs, and want to greet them after a long day, waiting for them to be calm first will result in improved greetings.
Calmness can be easily forgotten about if you are not actively looking for it. As you work towards having a calmer dog keep track of your progress and notice when you start to see changes in your dog. Practice other calm training exercises and interactions including mat work, massage, settle and down, and impulse control exercises. Focusing on teaching your dog how to be calm will result in an easier to manage companion dog. Once your dog can be calm all of the other training will seem to come together mush easier.