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  • Sarah Stonehouse

Can your dog self-soothe?


A lot of focus is spent on how to keep our dogs occupied, how much to train them and how much to exercise them. We live in a culture that loves dogs more and more each day, we defend their rights as sentient beings and we are leaning more and more into kinder more positive ways of training. Brilliant! But sometimes I feel we love dogs a little too much. We've forgotten how to teach independence.


How many of you stop what you're doing to entertain your pet when they start barking or pawing at you? How many of you are guilt-tripped into non-stop constant hugs or play because you're worried your dog is bored?


Yes, you need to walk your dog enough for their breed and age requirements.

Yes, you need to provide enrichment and problem-solving activities to occupy their brain.

Yes, you should cuddle your dog (if they enjoy it) and treat them like a member of the family.


BUT...


How many of you have a dog that knows how to just do... nothing? That will accept you're busy and go and switch off.


If your dog is constantly following you around the house, pestering you for attention and displaying unwanted behaviour to get it, chances are your dog has not learnt the ability to self soothe. If you're working from home and your dog is forever up in your grill, dropping a ball on your lap or barking until you give in, your dog hasn't learn to self soothe. This is something you can help to teach them by creating the right environment, but also something they have to teach themselves. And remember, these methods only work IF your dog's exercise, social and enrichment needs are being met.


At it's simplest form, dogs learn by association and they are cleverer than you think.


'Picking up this shoe means my owners will play chase with me.'

'Jumping up means my owner will then ask me to sit for a treat.'

'Pawing my owner means they'll fuss me.'

'Barking at my owner means they will get up to entertain me.'


If you feel like one of the above applies to you... this blog post is for you. In reality, these behaviours are best prevented from day one. If you have a puppy, remember they are learning all the time, not just at your weekly puppy class. Instead we want to provide designated relaxation time where we teach them that we aren't there to respond to their every beck and call. That's not to say leave them alone at 8 weeks of age and allow them to cry it out. But going about your house doing your own thing whilst they're in a pen with a chew toy, teaching them you aren't readily available for them 24/7 will allow them to learn to entertain themselves and not beg for your attention. If they never get to practice it, it won't become a thing.


For those of you that are already in the throes of attention-seeking mayhem, you will have likely been told to ignore them.

"Ignore them and they'll stop."

Well... this isn't exactly wrong. But what most people forget to point out is that your dog will experience an Extinction Burst before they stop.


An Extinction Burst means withholding the reinforcing consequence to an unwanted behaviour in order to cause it to become extinct. In simple terms, an example of this is ignoring your dog in order to get them to stop barking at you. However, there is usually an swift increase in the frequency of the unwanted behaviour because the dog is frustrated that it is no longer working and will try harder. The dog barks more frequently and loudly. If you give in, you've taught your dog to bark louder and more frequently for attention. In short, the dog won. However, If you persist in withholding attention, your dogs behaviour will eventually become extinct. The longer your dog has been practicing this behaviour, the longer it will take to become extinct. This is why prevention is better than cure.


A human example of this is a child crying in the supermarket because their mother won't buy them cookies. The mother ignores the crying and their child goes into full meltdown tantrum mode in the middle of the supermarket. How embarrassing, right? Well, the mother either gives in, buys their child the cookies in order to stop them and thus teaches the child that tantrums work... OR... ignores their child's tantrum and goes home without cookies. The tantrum will eventually become pointless and their child will stop. Tantrums will become extinct.


So, if you have a dog that struggles to self soothe, my advice is to stop responding to your dog's every beck and call. Provide them with a relaxing space full of enrichment toys and designate times where you 'switch off'. And be aware of the Extinction Burst.#


Not only will you get more peace and quiet, but your dog will also grow to become a more well-rounded settled dog.


If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact me directly via my website.



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