The Old Trainer: Don't curb dog's enthusiasm

June 16, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: We used tips from your column to train Laker, our 1-year old Lab. He is smart and learned basic discipline almost instantly. The problem is that while he is doing a trick he gets excited and jumps and bucks and runs around the yard barking and wanting to do it again. How do we calm him down?

-- Jaycee, San Carlos

A: Before you worry about calming him down, take time to consider how fortunate you are to have a dog that loves to learn and to perform for you. That's not a problem, that's an opportunity.

Part of Laker's exuberance is his genetics. A young, male Lab wakes up every day singing the first line of "Back in The USA," by Chuck Berry -- "Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today."

The other part, the part that makes him special, is the pleasure he feels when he makes you happy. All dogs love to please their owner, but some love it so much they have to express it on the spot.

Think back to when you were a kid and how you celebrated that first soccer goal or first guitar solo or catching that first fish. How you couldn't wait to get out there and do it again and again. That's how Laker feels when he performs a trick for you.

Joker, the 1-year old border collie who is the baby of my pack, is the same way. A few weeks ago, I taught him to "play the piano."

He loves the trick so much he starts wiggling and dancing before I even give him the command. Right in the middle of the trick he jumps over the piano to celebrate with me. Doing the trick makes him so happy he can't finish the trick.

I don't mind. The fact that he learned it so fast and loves to do it is what is important. I can teach a dog to control his excitement, but I can't teach one to love training and performing. They have to be born with that.

If you are lucky enough to have a dog who loves to learn, take advantage of it. Your objective is to calm him slightly, but retain the enthusiasm and channel it so that it becomes a training aid.

Work with Laker every day. As he starts to get excited, relax your body language and say "calm down" in a soft voice. Use the hand signal that a speaker uses when calming a crowd.

The instant he calms down, even a little, pet him to show him that's what you want. Take a break for just a couple of seconds, then continue. That will break his concentration on how good he feels.

If he still cannot contain himself -- and young males sometimes just can't do it when they are wound up -- give him the "set" command and let him rest for a few seconds. Praise him and pet him when he sits.

As Laker matures he will relax. Your training will do the rest.

Jack Haskins is The Old Trainer. He has been training dogs for more than 30 years. He's rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000. To send him questions, email theoldtrainer711@yahoo.com.

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