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Why Wont My Dog Just Lay Down?!? Teaching Through Stress

Why Wont My Dog Just Lay Down?!? Teaching Through Stress

September 26, 2013 by Conor Davis
Categories: New Dog,Behavior,Training,Tips

Having two dogs (Golden Retrievers) that are 13 years old has spoiled me. They couldn&r squo;t care less about going out to pee all the time. As they've gotten older and I have to coax them to exercise with me, if Im feeling lazy that day and want to cut corners or cut it short, they fully support the decision. The boy one (Eeyore), no longer has the motivation (or dexterity) to get up on the counters and steal loaves of bread, ketchup packets, food wrappers or any of the countless items his sister (Ruhni) has talked him into pulling down for her. And most importantly - they are super chill when we just hang out at home. 

But, here’s the thing - I have recently started a new relationship, and that relationship comes with a new addition to our little pack. Our new addition is Zoey, a 1.5 year old Boxer/American Bulldog mix. She is a sweet, squishy faced, brindle brick of love. We did proper dog-to-dog introductions, of course, so that wasn't going to be an issue. Our only issue was Eeyore and food, which we worked on and improved. So, if she's so great, what’s the issue you ask? Well, the first night she came over to my house, she spent the WHOLE night pacing, walking circles around the couch, walking from room to room, and never just laying down and relaxing for more than a minute or two. Prompting the question, "Why won't my dog just lay down?!?" So, I slipped into dog trainer mode and discussed what was going on and how to improve the behavior. 

It’s all quite easy, so I figured I'd share that with everyone else too.

First, let’s look at the “Why”. That is an exceptionally simple answer - stress. Just like some of us, when we go somewhere new and don't really know where we are at, what we are supposed to do, and where "our area" is, we get stressed. Stress is not always necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the behaviors that we see in dogs can become quite annoying (like making 700 laps pacing around the couch).

So, how do dogs show stress? Stress behaviors in dogs (and people too) can be classified as positive stressors and negative stressors. Amusingly, my two dogs, even though they're brother and sister, are one of each. Ruhni, being a negative stressor, immediately went to her quiet place in the house when Zoey came over and avoided her until snacks and walking times. Negative stressors shut down to avoid problems. Positive stressors (like Eeyore and Zoey) energize. Energizing is great when you're going in the dog show ring, not so great when you're trying to watch a movie! 

At this point you must be wondering how do I help "fix it"? The snarky answer is "alleviate the stress", but that’s pretty darn useless because it’s usually not really possible. (But hey, first and foremost, if you can remove the stressor easily, do that first!) So then, the fix is to treat the symptoms. 

Now, the goal is to show them what you want. And thankfully as you teach them, it also has the benefit of stopping the annoying stress signs while also diminishing their actual stress level. So, I gave Zoey a couple of hours to acclimate and naturally relax. Of course, she did not calm down. Her mom had reached the end of her patience with the behavior as well, so I slipped into dog trainer mode. I broke out my trusty collar and leash and put her on a Settle Down. Done. Problem solved, sort of. This one exercise is literally the catalyst for everything else I am going to ask this dog to do, forever. This is the first exercise we do with EVERY dog we get in for training. It sets a standard that we are the bigger dog and that we expect the other dog to chill. 

If you don't know what Settle Down is, check out the podcast on the Respect Series (not to mention it's covered in ALL of our classes online). But, here is a quick refresher: it is simply putting your foot on the dog’s leash at a distance where they cannot walk away or jump on you. It's not so tight that it is forcing them to the ground, but there should be enough tension so that lying down is the best choice. Oh, and please note - if your dog is REALLY franticly stressed, trying desperately to pull away, or freaking out, loosen up on the leash a lot. You don't want to cause a panicked, trapped sensation in an already stressed dog.

So, Settle Down is the key. Simple and easy. But, let me share some Pro Tips I used to speed up the process. 

#1: Since my goal is to TEACH her to relax and lay around, this requires letting her make choices and mistakes. Always remember that mistakes give you an opportunity to show your dog exactly what you want, so if they get up 100 times, that gives you 101 opportunities to teach them. I promise you it is the dogs that make mistakes, and get corrected that end up learning what we want faster.

#2: I use Settle Down for limited times. 3 minutes, then I take my foot off the leash and QUIETLY tell her “It's okay” to “release her” while I hoped she would stay lying down. She didn't, so I let her pace for 20 minutes or so, then back to Settle Down for 5 minutes this time. Then I repeated the same release sequence. Eventually, she kept lying there after I released her! Success.

#3: You are training a stressed dog. Which means learning is greatly reduced and likelihood of mistakes is high. Be gentle and understanding. Think about it this way - if someone tried to teach you something or correct your behavior while taking your driving test at 16, you may have had a meltdown. Same for a stressed dog!

#4: All dogs will learn this at a different pace. Just be patient. Soon you can add the command “Settle Down”, and just use that as a directed command when they start pacing.

Is life with a new puppy perfect after all this? Nope. She still paces and gets into things, but she's a baby. That’s what they do. It's unfair to judge my 1.5 year old dog based on my 13 year old dogs. Heck, I’m pretty sure Eeyore was about 30x worse. He resented “Settle Down” so much that he would lie down to where he was pulling on the leash as hard as possible against my foot. So from nearly day one I had to do unrestrained Settle Down with him as a puppy. But, he showed me clearly he is the kind of dog who would most benefit from that exercise. And after spending all the extra time and effort working on it, he quickly turned into a dog I can trust in any situation to listen to me (well, as long as I keep up doing Settle Down with him, otherwise he gets a little hard of hearing…)

I hope this sheds some light on how to recognize this issue, as well as how to improve it. If you have any questions, please ask, we’re always here to help! 

And check out these additional resources:

Podcasts:

The Language of Stress

Respect Series-Settle Down (All of them really)

Getting a Second Dog (Proper Dog Introductions)

Online Classes

Basic Respect 101

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1 Comment

Looking after a relatives dog and he was driving us mad with his constant pacing. This has worked wonderfully and so easy to do. Thank you!!

Kirsti

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