“Too much energy” is the No. 1 behavior problem in dogs.
Almost all problems such as aggression, anxiety and hyperactivity stem from the dog’s high energy levels and the owner’s failure to give the dog something constructive to do with that energy.
You will always be able to re-direct your dog’s attention to you when faced with distractions as long as your dog views you as the greatest “prey,” according to Neil Sattin who trains dogs using what he calls natural dog training.
I have to admit I had a hard time accepting the idea of becoming my dog’s prey. I always want to be a leader to my dog and I associate prey as weak. But becoming my dog’s prey doesn’t mean Ace wants to eat me for dinner, it means I am the most attractive object to him. It means I am the center of his universe.
According to Neil, “natural dog training” is based on using the dog’s emotional interactions with the world to solve problems like aggression and anxiety. I received free copies of his Natural Dog Training DVDs in exchange for a review on this blog. The DVDs provided me with some activities to help dogs and their owners connect by engaging the dog’s prey drive.
Ace’s natural prey instincts kick in around squirrels, tennis balls and other dogs, but if I can always provide a much greater reward, I will be Ace’s greatest “prey” or what Neil calls, “the moose.” If I can get my dog to focus on me at any time, he will be able to ignore everything else and achieve reliable obedience when it matters most.
How to drain a dog’s energy
What our dogs want most of all is something to do with their energy. Neil uses what he calls “pushing” to accomplish this while also becoming the dog’s greatest prey.
Pushing is a way to work with your dog’s prey drive by hand feeding him with one hand while he pushes his chest into your other hand to get at the food. Eventually, the dog should literally be on his hind legs pushing you in a calm, controlled manner. Pushing should be relaxing for your dog as it drains his energy in a positive way. For more info on pushing, see Neil’s post on how to push with your dog.
I realize this pushing thing is a little weird and this Neil guy sounds a bit nuts, but stick with me. 🙂
If you know my mutt Ace, you know that he is generally a laid-back, calm dog, however he can quickly jump into an excited/fixated state. During activities such as fetch I have a difficult time getting Ace to calm down, and I can’t always re-direct his attention.
Neil’s pushing technique gave me something to try with Ace. I always keep an open mind and take different training methods for what they are worth. For Ace, there is nothing more valuable than a tennis ball. At one time in his life, playing fetch was his only source for draining energy, and because of that it became an obsession.
I decided to use pushing as a way to make me the “ultimate prey” to my dog. The goal is to provide an even better energy-draining source than retrieving. I will become “the moose” and therefore the center of my dog’s universe.
I’ve introduced Ace to this pushing exercise, using the words “ready?” and then “push,” being careful to remain calm the whole time. I don’t want him charging into me or jumping on me. This is not what pushing is about. We’re slowly working on this, but so far when we are outside and Ace is off leash, he is much more attentive to me. We haven’t practiced pushing with a tennis ball around, but we’ll progress to more distractions soon.
I am not planning on using “pushing” to re-direct Ace’s attention when we see other dogs or people because I will look like a complete weirdo, but it’s a good exercise to work on when we are alone.
It’s definitely strengthening Ace’s recall. He checks in with me on his own more often, makes better eye contact and is very interested in what I’m doing outside.
Even dogs that are initially non-food-motivated understand pushing, Neil said.
” … in the end it’s more about the game and the connection between you and the dog than it is about the food.”
Making the dog work for food
Dogs love to work for their food and most of us miss out on this opportunity every day by just plopping the bowl down or making the dog do one simple command before eating. If “sit” is the most challenging thing your dog does every day, he is probably desperate for a job or activity to help him drain more energy.
Neil recommends taking your dog’s breakfast with you on your morning walk and feeding it to your dog in bits when you come across distractions. This is a great way to make the dog work for his food while having fun. Offering food rewards or practicing pushing or obedience during the walk encourages the dog to pay close attention to you at all times.
Neil encourages dog owners to practice obedience with their dogs while the dogs are in high-energy states. That way the dog can learn to be obedient in context such as when another dog approaches. For example, you should be able to yell “down!” at any moment and ideally your dog should hit the dirt immediately in any situation.
I encourage you to take some time getting to know what natural dog training is all about and then decide if there is some aspect of it that can help you and your dog.
Check out this post that Neil wrote as well.