Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How to calm a hyper dog with the "Watch me" command

Obedient pug doing a watch me with a Boston terrier lying down

Let's start off with a quiz: Which of these two dogs is currently taking a class for hyper dogs at Willamette Humane Society?

If you mentioned Liam the pug, you're right.

And, yes, it wasn't too hard to get that question right, either. After all, Liam is demonstrating some remarkable focus in this particular photo. He's sitting nicely, and he's doing something that's extra important: He's looking right at me.

The "watch me" command is absolutely vital for hyper dogs, because it helps those dogs to train their attention from something stimulating to something reassuring.

Let me give you an example.

Over the weekend, Liam went on a long trip with me to another state. Once we arrived, he spent an evening in the company of about 10 adults, 4 kids and one adorable poodle. Liam didn't know most of these creatures at all, and pretty much everybody was walking, eating and making noise.

To Liam, this is a recipe for absolute insanity. If I didn't have a way to calm him down, he would have become so overstimulated and so upset within the first 5 minutes that he'd be at risk for overheating.

The "watch me" command helps, because I can pull his attention away before he gets too amped up. If the kids run and he feels like running, I can force him to look at me for a minute or two, so he won't get carried away. If people have pizza that Liam really wants to eat, I can get him to watch me instead, and he can get rewarded with a treat that is appropriate for him to eat.

The command works a little like a pause, so he can collect his rational mind and think things through before he acts. And it's an easy one to teach.

I taught Liam to watch by:
  1. Putting him in a sit.
  2. Holding a treat in my hand, and holding that hand close to his face.
  3. Slowly pulling the treat up to the level of my eyes. 
  4. Saying "Good watch me!" and handing out the treat when he looked from the treat to my eyes. 
Within just a few sessions, he had that down.

This is a command Liam learned years ago, as part of his puppy training, but I suppose I never thought to deploy it in social situations. But now that we've used it in a crowd, and I've seen Liam calm down quite a bit with this technique, it's one I'll be using a lot in the future.

We have another class tomorrow afternoon, so watch the blog next week for more updates. And if you missed the original post about this training class, click here for details.

If you've found a trick or tip that works great for hyper dogs, leave me a note, won't you? I'd love to learn. 

1 comment:

  1. I use a "down" command, and then they have to wait until they are calm to resume what they were doing. :-) Any psycho behavior and they go back into a down.
    I love the "watch me" command though, we just use if for different things like distractions when out for walks.