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Dog Training in 3 Easy Steps
How to Make your Dog Confident, Secure, and Able to Understand and Follow Rules
By Julie A. Bjelland
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Julie A. Bjelland
All rights reserved.
STEP ONE — GETTING READY FOR OBEDIENCE
Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success. ~Henry Ford~
Feeling Stressed or Overwhelmed?
Stress is not what happens to us. It's our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose. ~Maureen Killoran~
Why start a chapter about getting ready for obedience with a section about feeling stressed or overwhelmed? In my experience, people who are stressed often have problems with their dogs. Surprisingly, stress of the human and behavior problems of the dog often go hand in hand. Yes, behavior problems of your dog can cause stress, but your personal stress can also cause behavior problems in your dog! The first step in having a well-behaved dog is controlling your stress levels.
Everyone has some stress, but a lot of stress can disrupt your home life and affect your dog in many ways. It can even affect the success of your training. Your dog may also be the source of some of your stress. An out-of-control dog can be a huge source of stress, but there is a solution: Improve the communication between you and your dog, and successfully meet his needs.
Talking things out can sometimes help when you are dealing with stressors. Whenever you need friendly support, just contact me through my Web site and we can talk. The guidance in this book as well as personal support through my Web site can work wonders!
A well-behaved dog can be part of reducing stress levels. Studies in hospitals have shown that a dog just entering a room can lower a patient's blood pressure.
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of Americans are "living with extreme stress." Up to 50 percent believe stress has affected their health, relationships, and work. Many believe it has gotten worse in the past 5 years. In the survey, 70 percent of people said they had some kind of physical or physiological problem associated with stress, including fatigue, headache, irritability, anger, nervousness, and sleep problems.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the physical symptoms that occur as a result of stress evolved to be useful when the threat was physical, as in the caveman primitive days when there were wild animals and physical battles. Stress causes our heart rate and blood pressure to rise to allow the blood to reach the brain faster to respond more quickly. Blood sugar also rises, to offer more immediate energy.
Although short-term stress can support you to get things done, or act quickly when needed, long-term stress has major health risks. Stress causes the body to release stress hormones, which can have damaging effects. Too many stress hormones for too long can harm the immune system, causing us to get ill more often. Fluctuating hormone levels can cause mood swings and memory problems, and organs can be damaged, making us more susceptible to heart attack and stroke.
Okay, now that you understand how damaging stress can be to your body, how can it affect your dog? Think of stress like a balloon. If we add too much air to the balloon (too much stress in our life), then any small amount of extra air (stress) can cause the balloon to pop (explosion of temper or frustration). If we are walking around with so much stress in our body, any tiny thing our dog does wrong can send us over the edge of frustration. That's what happens when we carry a lot of stress. Something very small happens, and you lose your patience. Whereas, if we were not filled with stress, we'd have room for an additional stressor and our reaction to our dog might not be frustration. You'll have "room" for patience. Make sense? It's like that for everything, really.
One of the first steps toward having a well-behaved dog is to learn how to manage your own stress levels so you can create the extra space for patience. With patience, you can do just about anything. Additionally, if you are managing your stress levels, you have a more focused mind during training and are able to work toward your goals. If you are filled up with stress, you may not be able to clearly see your goals.
It is also very important to notice how your dog reacts to your stress. If you are stressed out about life or Fido's behavior, he'll start feeling a little uncertain about you. Your stress, frustration, or anger tends to send a signal to Fido that you are a weak leader with "issues," and he won't feel confident with you. If your dog is not confident in you, he will not listen to you, and your training will start to fall apart.
Now that you understand how important it is to learn to lower your stress level in life and in training, how do you go about it?
Exercise is one of the most successful natural ways of reducing stress. It also is one of the most important factors in having a well-behaved dog. Exercise with your dog, and you and your dog will do better! Don't go to the gym and leave him alone. Get out into nature, if you can, with fresh air and sunshine. Pick an exercise that you both enjoy so you'll be more likely to do it. And once you get your dog better behaved, it will be more fun to take him on walks.
Simplify your life. Sit down and write out what causes you stress and ways you can think about reducing those factors. Make a list of things that have to be done and things that can wait. Prioritize, so you can focus on the most important things in your life.
Learn relaxation techniques such as meditation. Meditation can be whatever you want it to be. If you have never done it before, you can start out just by spending a couple minutes out of every day sitting quietly. Focus on your breathing and try not to think about anything for a few minutes. For some, it can help to hum, chant, or listen to special relaxation music to focus on the sound. But the basic idea is that you take a few minutes out of every day to sit and quiet your mind and body.
MY FAVORITE RELAXATION TECHNIQUE
1. Find a quiet place with no distractions. Turn off the phone. Try to remove sounds and other distractions. If you have children who are old enough, or other household members, let them know this is your special quiet time and they should not disturb you.
2. Lie on your back in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. You can lie on the floor or on your bed. (This exercise is also useful if you are having trouble falling asleep, so in that circumstance you can be in your bed. But if you do not want to fall asleep, I suggest you lie on the floor on a mat or rug.) Relax your arms out to the side or, if you prefer, you can rest your hands on your chest, feeling your breath as you inhale and exhale. Your legs are about hip width apart.
3. Start to focus on your breathing, taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. When thoughts start to enter your mind, push them aside and begin again to focus only on your breathing.
4. Now start to concentrate on specific parts of your body with the intention of relaxing them completely, beginning with your eyes.
5. Notice how relaxed your eyes are as they rest in their sockets. You feel the tension begin to leave your face.
6. Turn your attention to your hands. Feel each finger relaxing. Imagine the pulse of your blood flowing all the way to your fingertips.
7. Think of an imaginary line that goes through your whole body and erases the tension. Move from your hands now to your arms. All tension is erased in your arms as you focus on how relaxed you feel.
8. The imaginary line continues to your neck and chest. Take notice of your chest as it rises and falls while you breathe normally. Your body is filling with oxygen and all is as it should be. The tension in your neck fades away as your shoulders melt into the floor or bed below you.
9. Your breath flows easily as your imaginary line travels down through the core of your body. You envision your appreciation for all your organs as they are working in unison to keep you healthy and your body running smoothly.
10. Your lower back melts into the surface below you. Your body is becoming one with the earth and the nature that surrounds you.
11. The line continues to erase all tension as it moves down into your legs and through your feet to your toes. The blood from your heart and oxygen from your poetic breathing flow through your body, and you are now in a state of total relaxation.
12. Lie here as long as you want. Focusing on your breath whenever you feel your mind wonder.
If you get good at this, you will be astonished how it feels. Try to increase the amount of time you can do it every day. Meditation can feel like you just had an hour massage. I practice this whenever I am nervous about something. This is a great tool if you sense you are beginning to feel frustrated or losing your patience with your dog. Focus on the breathing to keep yourself relaxed when needed.
When you learn to quiet your mind, you will notice that it carries over to the rest of your life. It is like training your brain to be calm. People who meditate regularly can focus easier, and when faced with stressful moments in the day they are more likely to handle them better because they have been "training" their brain. Everything takes practice and training to be good. Make a commitment to relaxing a few minutes every day. Soon, you will "train" yourself to relax, and your dog will improve too. When you are calm, your dog becomes calmer.
Write down your thoughts. Sometimes writing out your thoughts and feelings about things helps keep them in perspective. When you write down something and read it back to yourself, you often see your problem or stress in a whole new way.
Take time for yourself. Listen to music, read a book, take a hot bath. Treat yourself once in a while to something that makes you feel happy and calm. Rejuvenate yourself so you can be a better mother, father, husband, wife, friend, and dog trainer.
Be healthy. Take care of your health. Eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and healthy proteins. Skip the junk food and caffeine. Get enough sleep and exercise regularly. Good health is one of the most important factors in leading a happy life. Your body does a lot for you, so make sure you treat it well.
Be positive. Take care of your mental health too. Sometimes, if you tell yourself negative things, they come true, so try to maintain a positive attitude. Don't think negative thoughts about yourself. Be more positive. Love yourself. Your dog will also see that you are more confident, which will make the training go better.
Talk it out. If you have a close friend, family member, or even a counselor or psychologist whom you can share with, it can help you destress to talk things out. Sometimes the act of talking about your stress can actually decrease it, like a form of release.
Contact Julie. If you want to talk about your dog or any other stressors, contact me at www.webDogTrainer.com.
I am optimistic that you can live a healthier, happier life with your dog. Learning how to manage your stress will help you cope with whatever comes your way. If you are happier, your dog will be happier. You will feel better, stronger, and more focused during your training. Your dog will also trust you more, which will make your training flow well.
The Significance of Obedience
The human world is a pretty complicated place for dogs, and a lot of the things they do in their natural world you don't want them to do in yours. Dogs in the wild often leap all over each other in greetings, which is why dogs have that tendency to jump on you when they are excited. But this behavior doesn't work for you, especially if you have a big dog. In the wild, some dogs urinate to show the other dog they recognize his dominance. That's natural in their world, but not on your new carpet.
There are a lot of things in the human world that are not normal in the dog world. Dogs normally explore the world and don't do well staying in one place all day. They are not left alone for long periods of time in nature because they normally live among other dogs in groups. Therefore, it is understandable that your dog will do best if you can try to match his "normal" environment as much as possible in your human world. That involves lots of exercise, new sights and smells, less time alone and more time with you, time to play with his dog pals, and an environment with a calm, clear, natural leader with rules that are consistent so he can understand them.
Dogs in an environment more like their natural one do better and have fewer behavior problems.
We all have busy lives and it's hard to fit a dog's needs into our schedule. However, if you don't make adjustments, essentially you create more problems for yourself. Skipping the daily walks might feel like it gives you more time, but you risk returning to a shredded couch or an unhappy neighbor who listened to barking all day.
If you have physical limitations that prevent you from walking your dog, be a little creative. Hire a professional dog walker or a teen in the neighborhood to walk your dog, or put your dog into doggy day care. Or think about a motorized wheelchair. If the weather is bad outside, your dog can use a treadmill (this takes practice, but your dog will come to love it).
If you think about it, every need of your dog's is actually good for you. He needs exercise and so do you; he needs time with you, and you need his loving companionship. The one creature happiest to see you when you get home is your dog! There is nothing like having a dog offer never-ending love for you. He needs to get out and explore new sights and sounds, so take a trip to the park. You'll both make new friends.
So how exactly do you communicate your human needs to your dog? By teaching him obedience! Obedience is more than just teaching your dog to sit, lie down, or come when called. It is a way to actually communicate with your dog. Even if you do not plan on showing your dog in a competition, teaching him obedience is valuable in many other ways.
Jumping can be controlled through obedience. And since you know that dogs listen to their "leader" in nature, you've learned that if your dog considers you his leader, he will listen to you. Obedience accomplishes that.
People who practice obedience with their dog are leaders in their dog's eyes. This means that your dog respects your judgment and wants to do what you ask him to do. It also means he loves you more! This is important. Some people fear that using obedience with their dog is unkind in some way. But positive-based obedience techniques, like the ones described in this book, are actually fun. When obedience is done well, dogs feel good about themselves because you are giving them sincere praise and reward for accomplishing something. This makes your dog happier and teaches him what you'd like him to do.
Obedience can teach your dog to replace behaviors you don't want with ones you do. Instead of jumping on guests when they arrive, your dog can learn to sit happily and receive their attention that way, because you taught him that.
Nothing in dog training happens instantly. It takes practice, but it is worth every minute you put into it. Your dog will be happier, because a better-behaved dog gets to spend more time with you. You'll be happier because you'll know how to control your dog's behaviors in a way that works for everyone. Wouldn't it be fun to go to the off-leash park with your dog or go camping without a leash and feel confident your dog will stay near you and come when called? This is accomplished through obedience. Or maybe you live in a city and want to pass by other dogs and sit calmly with a friend at an outdoor café while your dog happily lies next to you. This is also possible through obedience.
Obedience takes practice and, most important, it takes consistency. If you are clear with your dog and ask the same thing of him every time, he'll learn really quickly. But if you sometimes allow him to jump on you when you are too tired to stop it, and other times you get angry and yell at him to stop, you create confusion — sometimes he can jump and sometimes he can't. But if you make a clear rule that jumping on you is never allowed, your dog will learn it quickly and stop doing it.
The more inconsistent you are with your dog, the more inconsistent he will be with you.
I believe that if you understand why you should do something, you are more likely to do it consistently. My goal throughout this book is to teach you why you should do one thing but not the other. Once you are consistent, learn my techniques, practice your timing, and praise genuinely, you'll discover a marvelous thing: Your dog listens to you!
Being a Calm, Clear, Consistent Leader
In nature, dogs live in groups. The leader is the confident, strong one. The other dogs follow the guidelines of the leader by watching him closely, observing his body language and behavior. The leader teaches them what kind of behavior is acceptable and what are the rules of the group. It helps to understand your dog's mind if you want success in training him. It is natural for a dog to need a leader to help him navigate the complicated human world. If you are not a calm, clear, consistent leader, your human world can be a very stressful place for your dog.
Excerpted from Dog Training in 3 Easy Steps by Julie A. Bjelland. Copyright © 2010 Julie A. Bjelland. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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