Do you expect your dog to be calm without practicing it?
A trap that’s easy to fall into is taking your dog somewhere and expecting a calm down without practicing it regularly.
You can’t be perplexed by this if you don’t put it into your routine almost daily. Every walk that involves a park visit includes us “existing” in different parts of the park. It could be two minutes or 15 minutes. Just practice it.
The reason we choose different spots every time we go is because of the way dogs learn. If I spent a month only doing a down stay for 10 minutes on the baseball bleachers, the next day if I tried it for 15 minutes at a picnic table nearby, I’m likely to see my dog a little stressed, they might really struggle with it, I might have to repeat myself and then feel like my dog is being bad and not behaving. The reality is that dogs do not generalize very well. If I only practice for 10 minutes in one spot over and over, switching it up is another challenge and adding time is another challenge. That is why you should mix up your dogs training routine as much as you can as well as the time.
On regular neighborhood walks, we stop at corners as well as the middle of the block a few times every day and have the dog just sit for 30 seconds to two minutes just hanging out. They can lay down if they want to, but we just relax. Try it with your dog and see how it goes. If you have practiced sitting at curbs, you might find it surprisingly challenging to get a calm 30 second sit in the middle of a block you’ve never asked for it before. Stay patient and don’t feel like you are back tracking if you need to use more leash guidance or food when usually you don’t have to. It’s normal to back track a few steps when doing anything different.
It’s the same when you go somewhere with your dog. If you head downtown where there are shops and places to get coffee in your town and you never walk SLOW, then your dog will be confused, frustrated and likely get amped up. You have to practice your window shopping pace walk regularly in your own neighborhood. Spend at least 10 minutes of your walk doing a very slow pace as if you are window shopping. Don’t always do it at the end of the walk when your dog is more tired. Again, you need to mix it up.
A good story for reference is my border collie, Dusty, was difficult to train off leash, but we managed it and spent a few years hiking at least once a week off leash. This kept his skills very sharp and made him such an easy dog to take anywhere off leash. Well, in the last couple of years we don’t hike near as often. I noticed the last time we did I was a little frustrated with him for not naturally checking in with me often like he used to. It’s such a great connection we have and I felt he was really pushing me and challenging me a bit when we’d see distractions. Naturally, I was annoyed and was thinking, “what is his deal?” I put all of this work into him initially…you’d think it should just last forever. Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize he wasn’t doing that to just be in charge. He was absolutely pushing my buttons and challenging my authority a bit, but not because he is trying to be some big alpha dog. It is simply because I haven’t been practicing our great relationship with him recently and like most dogs, he’s an opportunist. So my complaining disappeared and I have a choice to just understand that it’s going to be this way at this stage in my life where I’m working more or do something about it and make time to practice with him more and bond with him more.
Moral of the story is really look at your output and make sure it matches the expectations you have of your dog’s behavior.