How do you reinforce calm behavior from a hyper dog?

A woman emailed me recently to ask how to get her springer spaniel to chill out before and during walks.

Currently, her dog starts to whine and bother her about an hour before their usual walk.

Then, once she puts on her shoes, her dog really loses control and begins running in circles, constantly whining and even wetting himself. His whining continues while they’re outside.

That’s a lot of energy!

“I want to reinforce good habits,” the woman said. “But I’m just unsure how to do it. He is walked for an hour to two hours a day.”

I know a lot of dogs have similar issues, so I thought I’d share my ideas. I’d also love to hear your opinions, so feel free to leave tips in the comments. Or, let me know if your dog is having trouble with this exact issue.

How to reinforce calm behavior from a hyper dog

Dog backpack Ace the black Lab mix

Look for ways to increase the dog’s exercise

Easier said than done, I know. A person only has so many hours in a day. Here are some realistic ideas:

Take your dog running.

The right training collar can help prevent pulling so the dog runs nicely at your side. I realize not everyone is a runner, but even if you add 10 minutes of running with your dog to your usual walks, that can make a difference.

Dog backpacks.

Another idea is to try a dog backpack on walks with just a small amount of weight in the pack.

Off-leash time.

If it’s possible, try to give your dog some off-leash time to run off some steam at least twice a week. Some dogs can’t visit the dog park for health or behavioral reasons, so another option is to use a 40-foot rope and let your dog run in an open area like a field. Wear gloves to prevent rope burn.

Sophie the English springer spaniel

Ignore the whining before walks – you decide when the walks start

As difficult as it is, it’s important to ignore a dog who whines if you do not want to reinforce the behavior.

There are all sorts of ways to do this. Below are a few examples. These aren’t meant to be followed step by step; they are isolated ideas to try.

Block your dog from the room before he starts whining.

For example, if you work from home and you know your dog usually starts whining at 3:30 p.m., just close your office door at 3:15 or put your dog in his kennel or in another room at that time. Give him a yummy Kong-type treat (aff link) with peanut butter to keep him busy.

[quote_center]”Give him a yummy Kong-type treat with peanut butter to keep him busy.”[/quote_center]

Teach your dog to lie quietly on a dog bed.

Learn how to do this here. Kongs come in handy for this as well, and you can always tether your dog’s leash to a heavy piece of furniture if needed.

Get up and leave the room if the dog whines.

Or, move the dog to another room without scolding or even acknowledging him. Just gently guide him away as though you’re moving a pillow to another room or some other neutral object. Show no emotional response whatsoever.

Increase the dog’s exercise earlier in the day.

That way he’s likely to have less energy later on when you’re busy. You could also move his afternoon or evening walk a little earlier so you are walking him before he has a chance to whine.

Reinforcing calm behavior

I know plenty of dogs that get extremely wound up as soon as I touch the leash or put on my shoes. It’s cute but also annoying.

Here are some ideas to reinforce calm behavior before a walk. Again, these aren’t meant as steps to follow but are some random ideas to try.

Desensitize your dog to you picking up the leash.

[quote_right]”Pick the leash up randomly throughout the day at times when you won’t be heading out for a walk …”[/quote_right]To do this, you would pick the leash up randomly throughout the day at times when you won’t be heading out for a walk for at least an hour. Just pick the leash up and hold it for a few seconds without looking at your dog. Then, set it down and continue to ignore him for at least 5 minutes. This is to desensitize him to the excitement of you picking up the leash.

You could also clip the leash to your dog randomly without actually heading out. Let him drag it around the house (assuming you’re there to supervise) while you ignore him. Then, unclip it after about 10 minutes without showing any kind of response.

Expect your dog to sit before walks.

Don’t head out the door until your dog is sitting quietly. You’ll need to start out with really low expectations at first like “sitting silently for one second.” Once your dog does that, head outside. Next time, you’ll have slightly higher expectations like sitting quietly for two seconds, then five, then 15 and so on.

Ask your dog to sit before other steps leading up to the walk as well. For example, the dog must sit before you put the leash on him and then again before you open the door and again before you head out the door. Just make it easy enough for your dog to be successful. Some dogs really can’t control themselves (yet), so one second of sitting may be all you can ask for at this point.

Dogs sitting before their walk

Work on general obedience overall

If a dog is having any sort of behavioral problem, it often comes down to basic obedience skills. Does the dog sit and lie down on command at home with no distractions? If not, that’s what you should work on.

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Again, you obviously need to start out really slowly and very gradually build on your dog’s skills. This will only strengthen his self-control when it comes to other life experiences such as walks in new area, patience before meals, staying calm at the dog park, etc.

So those are my main ideas for helping an active dog chill out. What ideas do you have?

How do you reinforce calm behavior?

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