Emotional Speed Limits for your dog

Does your dog know the road rules?

Let’s talk about setting emotional speed limits for your dog

Imagine this: a world where we can drive at any speed we want, any time we want. No need to indicate, get your license, stick to the correct lane – just zig zag along the road at any speed you desire.

It would mayhem wouldn’t it? Complete chaos.

There’d be car accidents, fatalities, frequent damage to vehicles, properties and pedestrians. Now imagine that speed limits were introduced to make driving less dangerous.

If the Police pulled you over and fined you for going 40km p/h over the speed limit but there weren’t speed signs to tell you what speed you should be driving, it wouldn’t be fair.

First there were no road rules, and now you are in trouble for breaking them without being told they exist? Without knowing the rules first, it’s not fair to be fined for breaking them.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? We would never be able to function successfully or safely as a society without road rules.

So not only do we have laws in place to ensure we know how to drive and do so safely, we have consequences in place when drivers don’t abide by the rules.

Every driver understands the road rules, and those who get caught breaking them risk being fined or having their license removed. No one feels sorry for a driver who is caught going 100km p/h in a 60km p/h zone because the speed signs clearly display the speed limit, and every driver understands the road rules before they get their license.

All too often we let our dogs become accustomed to doing what they want, when they want, without teaching them the “road rules”, then we get upset when they become out of control.

Emotional Speed Limits for your dog
Dogs like Roxie that are extreme leash pullers need to learn how TO behave

So what do road rules have to do with dog training? All too commonly we have dog owners come in for training or behaviour consults who are having problems with their dogs.

Whether it is leash pulling, jumping on people, lunging at other dogs, dog or human aggression, mouthing or barking or a number of other bad behaviours, the dogs almost always have one thing in common.

These dogs don’t understand the rules because they have never been taught what they should be doing, and they have no idea how to control their emotions or high arousal levels.

Not unlike drivers being on the road without knowing the road rules, we expect our dogs to behave in our society without showing them how it works.

All too often we let our dogs become accustomed to doing what they want, when they want, without teaching them the “road rules”, then we get upset when they become out of control.

Correcting a dog for displaying behaviour we don’t like, like lunging and barking at another dog, isn’t fair if we haven’t first taught them what they should be doing.

Life skills like loose leash walking are incompatible with things like leash pulling, lunging and barking at other dogs. And, much like we have to focus on the road when driving our car, giving a dog a target behaviour like loose leash walking keeps them concentrating on a task rather than becoming distracted by the environment.

Emotional Speed Limits for your dog
Dogs that understand loose leash walking can moderate their arousal

Think of life skills as the way we set the speed limit. Every exercise we teach our dogs has a level of arousal (speed limit) assigned to it.

Loose leash walking is like driving in a carpark or school zone. The dog needs to be in first gear, calm and relaxed, not looking for stimulation in the environment and concentrating on the task at hand.

This is a dog that you can take into busy and stimulating environments like markets or cafes without becoming concerned they are going to put their foot on the accelerator and cause an accident.

If the dog lost control of themselves once they understood the road rules, you can then apply a consequence. That doesn’t always mean a physical correction but a consequence (like removal of a reward) that will motivate the dog to stick to the rules.

Emotional Speed Limits for your dog
The trigger cue is given the dog goes into drive they can then bring excitement and adrenalin

On the other hand, when I give my dogs ‘a trigger cue’, I want them to put pedal to the metal and go as fast and as hard as they can. This means I can actually change their emotional state verbally.

The word “READY” is my training in drive cue and it is my way of telling my dogs that I want high arousal, fast and focused work. This is the dog’s opportunity to push me to earn high end rewards.

Saying ‘ready’ is like raising the flag on a race track. The race car drivers know it’s time to speed off as fast as they can to try and win first place.

In both situations I make it clear to my dogs what I expect of them, knowing that they understand the rules. We can’t function in society without knowing the rules, so it stands to reason that our dogs can’t either.

If you have a dog that struggles to control itself in stimulating environments, around distractions or even at home, consider whether your dog knows the road rules… Or are they driving unlicensed, without any knowledge of how to control their speed?

As always we welcome your comments and questions in the comment section below!

About Rebecca Chin

Bec has been mentored by Steve Courtney since 2007 and works full time at K9 Pro as the Senior Dog Trainer. She primarily works with dog owners to help them teach their dogs good life skills and general obedience, works with our board and training dogs to rehabilitate dogs with serious behaviourial issues as well as helping new puppy owners with puppy foundation training.

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