Stay on the floor? Why? How?

Twiglet, is Twiglet!

Twiglet bounces like Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout (for anyone old enough to remember).

Down on the floor on cueThey don’t want to stop their little Border/Lakeland terrier being Twiglet, do they (what a wonderful name!). Unfortunately sometimes some people find her flying all over them a bit too much.

The question is whether stopping her doing this altogether is either worth the effort involved – or even whether they would want to.

Usual advice is about consistency.  A dog that jumps up should be reinforced for feet on the floor only and everyone should do the same thing. Every person should deal with it every time she jumps on the sofas and onto people.

This could be a real challenge with Twiglet, not least because the couple love her up on them. She lies behind them on the back of the sofa and, with their other dog, shares their bed. She was very interested in my ears.

Uncomfortable

Because some people are uncomfortable when a dog jumps all over them it can cause tension and stress for both the couple and for Twiglet.

So, they will teach her to get down onto the floor for now only, as a kind of interlude to normal life. She will go on the floor when requested and stay off sofas and people until released. They will teach this as a ‘trick’ – rather like ‘sit’ or ‘off’. The cue could be ‘floor’ or merely a point. It could mean anything is ok that isn’t on either people or chairs, standing on the floor or sitting, lying down or running about. It’s temporary.

They will teach it in several stages, involving Twiglet working things out for herself using a clicker approach.

When we teach ‘sit’ we don’t expect the dog to keep sitting for always do we! Twiglet won’t have to stay on the floor all the time but only at those times she’s asked to. Then she will know it means staying there until released. ‘Okay, you can come up now’.

As the times when ‘Floor’ will be needed are when someone comes to their house, they will be the times when Twiglet is naturally most excited. Part of the exercise will be giving her something special to do or to chew, on the floor, that she doesn’t get at other times.

Other dogs

Some more self-control at home, like staying on the floor when required to do so, will spill over onto what is most important to Twiglet’s humans. That is for her to be more predictable when encountering other dogs.

She doesn’t react negatively to every dog and it’s not every time. With each further dog she encounters on a walk the likelihood of a negative reaction from Twiglet increases – ‘trigger stacking’. A build-up of too much arousal and excitement makes her reactivity to another dog much more likely.

How her humans themselves react is critical.  At present its more about keeping her attention away for the other dog, and towards their hand or food. This is distraction, a kind of avoidance. Getting her to simply ignore it or pretend it’s not there won’t change much.

Teaching her to engage with the dog and then to counter-condition requires acknowledging the other dog but at a distance that is comfortable to Twiglet. Then this other dog, at the comfortable distance, triggers food (or fun).

That would be just the start.

Twiglet’s reactivity is unpredictable.

She has lots of doggy friends. She can sometimes react badly when running free too, so I would teach her when off-lead to clock in with them whenever she sees a dog. Then they can decide whether to hook her up again or to let her go to the dog.

This way, coming back to them becomes a default when she sees a dog.

Twiglet is a divine little dog, living with people who are very keen to keep on learning how she ticks.

Email the evening of our meeting: ‘I’ve been on a walk with them both this afternoon and let Twiglet have a slow mooch on a long lead. We meet another dog whilst she was on lead who lunged and barked at her but she didn’t react herself …. 
A week later: Whilst out on our walk this morning we had a couple of unprovoked disengages from Twiglet! I saw her staring at something so I looked up to see what it was, by the time I looked back down she was looking at me with that “well, where’s my treat then?” look on her face! So the next time she saw a dog I paused for a second and she turned her focus on me… I was so proud of her! 
At the end of six weeks: I now have a working solution to help Twiglet with her fear aggression towards other dogs, her wariness towards cars and her general excitability (which I know is just part of who she is). 
I know Twiglet is an ongoing project bless her, and that’s absolutely fine! But we’re getting some really good and consistent results already. More and more she’s coming to me when other dog’s are about and she generally seems less bothered about them.
I feel you’ve pointed me down the right path now which I can follow with confidence. Thank you!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Behaviour and Support page)