How to use Exercise 1.1 The Up & Down Game to make sure your puppy grows up loving meeting other dogs but can remain calm and attentive to you too!
This video is also very helpful for anyone with a dog who can be reactive or uncomfortable around triggers such as cyclists, joggers, cars other dogs etc.
I’m using Ash as the demo dog in this video as he was markedly reactive when I first adopted him especially to cyclists, strangers and other dogs. He has made huge improvements and now remains happy and cheerful when cyclists and strangers go past even at very close quarters but he is still worried by new dogs when he is on lead.
Once reactivity takes root it can take lots of time and patience to improve as we are dealing with a ‘feeling’ rather than a ‘thinking’ dog so one of the best gifts you can give your puppy is to ensure they look forward to meeting other dogs and people they don’t know.
To explain the approach let’s imagine there is a device built into your car dashboard. Every time you are driving and you see someone walking a dog the device magically prints and dispenses a £5 note. It doesn’t matter whether it’s morning, noon or night, every time you see someone walking a dog the machine pays out. You also notice that it doesn’t matter what type of dog it is – ANY dog and the device pays out.
After a short while how do you think you would feel when you saw someone walking a dog – happy right? Me too. How would you feel when you realised the route you were taking would take you past lots of dogs? Would you be feeling happy, optimistic and looking forward to seeing all the dogs? Of course! This is the essence of classical conditioning at work.
The rule is simple, whenever you see another dog approaching, especially from head on you become the dashboard cash dispenser for your puppy by playing the Up & Down game – you can click for remaining calm and looking at the trigger (in this case the other dog), for looking at you, for looking away and then looking back at you – all these behaviours earn a reward and we use the clicker to make the exercise as easy as possible for the dog. If you know the other dog is friendly to puppies then by all means let them meet but do mix this up with keeping a nice distance away too so your puppy grows up learning that sometimes they get to play and sometimes we just play a fun game looking from a distance.
10 minutes spent is a busy car park like this is time well spent and will really tire your dog out too. Dogs have to learn how to pay attention when outdoors amidst distractions as this doesn’t come naturally and this is why this exercise is so great. It helps your dog feel good about seeing other dogs approach and helps them practice paying attention to you at the same time.
Note: if you have a reactive dog and he/she is very excited or is barking & pulling then you are too close to the trigger. It’s really important that your dog is remaining calm and happy throughout while you’re working so you may have to work at a long distance away to start off with and you need to become very familiar with your dogs body language so you know when they start to feel uncomfortable.