This is the second part from the series on lead aggression. Please read Part 1 first.
Since I’ve been writing a lot about focus, concentration and stress, I will just briefly summarize the main points. Improving concentration will involve some actual training and exercises, while stress management will be focused mostly on lifestyle adjustments. I believe, that the easiest way to deal with dog behavioural issues is to create such an environment, which will set the dog up for success.
Learning to Focus
Concentration skills are crucial for solving any dog behaviour problems. If your dog doesn’t know how to learn and isn’t used to paying attention to you, it will be very difficult to teach her anything more advanced than a “sit”. Another reason for putting a good foundation in place is that regular training sessions improve overall behaviour even if doesn’t address any specific issues. Think about it as yoga for runners. Yes, when you do yoga, you don’t work on your running skills, but yoga does improve your results after all. I recommend to begin with the foundation exercises, such as “eye contact”, “look at me” and “touch”.
With regard to the dog’s ability to handle stress, there are several things that can improve it. First, make sure that your dog gets enough exercise. There are no general recommendations as to how much is enough. Some dogs are happy to sleep 23 hours a day, while other dogs need hours of active walks every day. The rule of thumb is that if your dog had to sleep for a few hours after a walk, than it was tiring enough. You may not be able to have long walks every day, but at least try to “stock up” on physical activity for your dog during weekends. A couple of hours on Saturday and on Sunday will help you to survive till Wednesday. Again, all dogs are different and it is you, who knows your dog’s exercise needs best. For example, Milo is perfectly fine with just about 40 minutes per day and maybe an hour and half walk over the weekend. He literally does sleep all; and if we take him out hiking for a few hours or I take him for a longer run with me, he will be glued (I mean it!) to his bed for the following couple of days.
“My dog is really hyper” is one of the most common complaints from owners. Increasing the amount of exercise is one way to deal with it; however, decreasing amount of calories and especially carbohydrates is another very effective lifestyle adjustment that you can try. First of all, make sure you don’t overfeed you dog. I wouldn’t suggest reducing a puppy’s portion unless advised so by a vet, however, older dogs can be getting too much food. Even if your dog is not particularly overweight, you may consider balancing his food with exercise. If today you just managed a short walk around the block, than make sure you adjust your dog’s dinner. Likewise, if your dog had been running in the fields for hours, feel free to give him a bit of extra. Also be aware of calories in snacks and treats. Second, read the labels on the back of your dog’s food pack. Often, dogs can become too hyper and excitable, because they are fed too many carbohydrates. Sugar affects dogs in a similar way as it affects people. It is a source of quick energy and it has to be burned off. Consider switching your dog’s food to a grain-free one or at least to something that doesn’t list grains as its first ingredient.
Finally, I would like to remind you about the “relax on a mat” exercise and about the massage techniques to be used on dogs. Both relaxation exercise and massage are good for helping your dog to learn how to calm himself down and to handle stress. Massage also provides health and psychological benefits for yourself, as it lowers blood pressure and promotes bonding with your dog.
To summarize: before you begin any specific training, make sure that you have the basics covered. Concentration training, exercise, balanced diet and relaxation will provide the foundation, which is crucial for successful training.