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Kuranda Dog Beds - Rethinking dog beds
Kuranda Dog Beds
— November 6, 2012 —

Building confidence in your dog through distractions.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Usually “distractions” are thought of as a difficulty associated with training. Today, we’ll talk about how to use distraction to your advantage in dealing with a less confident dog.

Mia is a mastiff. She is about two years old and her owner came to me for help getting her through the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. She is not an aggressive dog in the least, but she has some fear issues. Basically, she’s scared of new things. The CGC is a test administrated by the AKC for what I consider the minimum level of training that a dog should have. It is comprised of sitting, walking nicely on leash, being friendly with strangers and a few other simple exercises. Mia, being a large dog, should be able to complete this test to prove that she is capable of behaving appropriately in public. The problem is that she’s scared of the entire testing scenario. The strange location, filled with strange people and strange dogs puts her on edge.

Upon meeting Mia, I struggled to find a way to relate to the dog. Her nervousness made it hard to get her to bond and without any bond between us, training was not going to happen. Food and toys were hardly interesting and petting was, well, scary. There was one thing that got her attention. She would barely play tug … barely. So that’s what we did. We played tug a little at a time until she got pretty into it. As she got to know me, I became that guy who played with her. Now, you may wonder what tug has to do with her passing the CGC. Wouldn’t tug make her more aggressive and less controllable? Isn’t tug a bad thing? Thoughts on tugging with your dog is changing. It’s not really seen as a competition between you and your dog.

Trainers used to preach that tug was a bad thing. Unfortunately, some still do. Playing tug does NOT make your dog dominant to you or make him more likely to be aggressive. What tug does do is bring the dog into a very aroused mental state. If we regularly elevate our dog’s mental state without learning how to direct that excitement, we can run into problems. This is what I am talking about when I discuss the overstimulated dog in previous Tails. Playing tug without rules can be bad. Tug as a drive and confidence builder can be very positive for a dog.

In the case of Mia, I wanted to use the excitement of playing tug to increase her stimulation level. While she is very excited and focused on the tug, we introduced her to new situations like walking past a loud motorcycle. I basically distract her from her own fear. Over time, the tug game becomes more important than the big scary world. Every time she gets through a new situations, she is stronger for the next new situation. Today, Mia’s owner takes her tug on walks. If she gets nervous, out comes the tug and she uses it almost like a pacifier. Her owner tugs with her a little and she forgets about the big scary … whatever. The CGC is still a ways off, but she is learning every day that the world is not such a bad place. Distracting her is, in this case, a good thing.



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