This is a foundation behavior in the My Smart Puppy approach that builds self-calming rather than rewarding struggle. One of the ways we practice this with our dogs is when we handle them. When many people start out, they tend to try something and, if the dog struggles at all, they stop. This common reaction actually rewards struggle.
If we instead calmly wait out the struggle until the dog pauses, and then stop what we are doing, our dogs learn that being calm gets them what they want. This is a concept that pays off in many ways, including during nail trimming, ear cleaning, eye medicating, brushing, veterinary visits, during emergency care when you don’t want to fight with your dog to help your dog and, most importantly, when “surprised” by a child or guest.
To start working on Calm = Release (Note: only you can assess the safety of this for you and your dog. If you have any concerns or doubts, or if your dog has shown any aggression toward anyone ever, please get hands on help from a qualified dog professional.)
- Choose a moment when your dog is calm already. Don’t try to teach this to a rambunctious dog, as that just make things harder for both of you.
- Have your pup/dog between your knees, both of you facing the same direction. Do this in a way that is comfortable for you both: kneeling and sitting are both fine, just make sure he can’t back under whatever you are sitting on.
- Make sure your face is not near the dog’s/pup’s head— it hurts if they swing their head up and you get smacked in the cheek or jaw. Do not lean over your puppy if she struggles, as we do not want you smacked in the face if her head swings around.
- Hook one thumb through your dog’s flat, non-tightening collar and cup that hand under the jaw.
- Breathe evenly, be as relaxed as you can be. Most puppies settle quickly after an initial burst of activity.
- Your other hand calmly scratches her chest and is ready to help restrain her if she bucks, squirms, mouths, yips or otherwise complains. Stay calm, keep your hands as relaxed as possible, talk to her quietly. Wait it out.
- When your buddy calms – even for a few seconds – calmly release him.
- Lesson: Calm = release.
by Sarah Wilson