Thursday, April 16, 2009

Off Switches...do you want one?

I thought I would answer a question that was posed to me recently...how do I have 7 dogs with off switches---my normal answer is "well, I guess they just do?"

Which I realize is not really a good answer :) So I thought about it a bit and realized that lots of my daily interactions with my dogs actually ENCOURAGE this switch :)

Other than the oldest dog (Mr. Rescue), all of my dogs are from working lines, and would definitely be OCD about being busy. However having 6 dogs in constant motion would make me want to pull my hair out. ALL dogs are capable of an off switch to some extent--some just have to maybe have it installed a bit more than others :) For those that know my dogs, Klink came with a natural off switch (yes the screamer!) and Zip and Gator had to have theirs more "developed"...but all have no problems relaxing :)

It all comes down to "if you want it". THAT simple :) Really! Please read on...

When Zip was younger, she had start line issues. And I worked on it...and I thought I was putting my all into the issue! Then someone made this statement "Well once it really bothers you, then it will get fixed". At first I thought--WELL...THAT was rude! But in reality this person was 100% right. If it bothers you enough, you will fix it. Apparently this person was tired of me complaining about my dogs start line stay--she fixed it didn't she? I never complained again!

And it made me realize I wasn't putting 100% of my effort into working on her stays...I was trying to "get by"...it made me analyze, make a plan of attack, and deal with it. And to be CONSISTENT. Zip now has a stay--it IS a retrained stay (so yes there is some scooting) but it is a stay.....and IF I cared enough, there would be no scooting--but to be honest, I find it darn cute :) So sue me :)

It reminds me of a person that I gave a lesson to once for their lab...the dog had NO recall to speak of...HOWEVER that dog would NOT step ONE foot on their white carpeting in the living room. Even if a ball rolled in there. Why? It bothered them enough to put 100% of their time into training it! It is all about priorities.

So...this is probably why I have not ever had to deal with a dog with no off switch---it is a major thing in my life---I want it and work at it.

There are guidelines I follow when I bring puppies home and want to work on helping them develop off switches--I really had to think of these since it is so ingrained into my head :)

Exercise your dog--they can't settle if they get no work...common sense, but very often overlooked. Mental exercise is much more effective than physical--plus safer on growing puppies! But physical exercise DAILY is a must, we have the luxury of being able to walk the dogs off leash everyday--HOWEVER, if you live in town, put your sneakers on and take them for a walk. When we lived in town we took all our dogs (at the time we had three--wow...only 3??) on leashed walks EVERY SINGLE DAY. Twice a day actually. Snowing, raining, cold, hot etc. If it was -15 then we didn't..not safe really for us or the dogs, but otherwise we were out there. Why? It is your job as a dog owner to do that--bottom line. You wanted a dog, WALK IT. It is good for your health as well!

X-pens--I use these A LOT. #1 so I don't have to chase a running puppy around, but also that becomes their trigger that I will not be interacting with them when they are in the x-pen. I fill the x-pen with lots of fun things, bones, toys, etc etc. I want to encourage them to learn to self entertain---WHAT!?!??!??!? AHHHHHHH that is a dog training SIN!!!!!!! I say no! I don't put the COOL toys in there (tuggies and tennis balls for my dogs) those are reserved for playing with ME since I am so cool and would like to remain as such :) I want to be the center of their world, WHEN WE ARE WORKING. I do not want a dog that relies on me as their sole form of entertainment. Following me around constantly staring at me and seeing me as their only friend. Some will say "well the dog will only want to play by themselves"...think about this...the toys are in there all the time...they get boring anyway, so I am still pretty darn cool :) But they learn to entertain themselves properly...I like that :) If I had one or two dogs, it might not matter, but 7 dogs that ALL want me to be the center of their world all the time? Makes me claustrophobic thinking about it!

I tell them when they are done playing/working/whatever--so we are playing and when I am done playing, I say that'll do (from herding--that is their command to stop working stock) and the puppies from a very young age learn when I say "that'll do" they are done playing or working. Already Even and Lynn--who are ball freaks, know this. They can be so intense on the ball or toy and as soon as I say that'll do, you can see their eyes soften and their bodies relax and normally they will even turn away from the toy or ball! Once that'll do is said, there are no bargains to be made. This is learned from day 1, and I would say by 9 weeks (so one week for new owners) your pup will understand :)

I don't encourage "run to you puke" mentality...dogs are like children (or so I have been told!)--when they start getting overtired they get goofy--overstimulated, cranky etc etc. Watch your puppy and you will see it happen. When I see my pup getting close to this, I put them up to rest. Running around like an idiot is not something I want to foster. So they get crated. So they learn early on being overly tired = settle and relax.

Don't allow obsessive behaviors :) They may seem cute when they are babies, but when they are grown up it won't be! Normally I just remove them from the situation so it doesn't have a chance to develop into something obsessive--believe it or not, it normally works!

I will leash my puppies up and watch a movie or read a book--give them a bone to chew on and just SIT DOWN and chill with them. Of course I make sure they are exercised well before this, so I have that on my side :) If you go to herding trials you see puppies tethered to fences/trucks etc. 10 week old puppies settling, watching things, not barking or lunging at the ends of the chains...just relaxing. Same thing, just I will do this indoors :)

To teach an off switch on stock I find it simple to follow this rule---My dogs know, if you are by yourself (aka I have just one dog out) we will be working. If you are with the pack, you are not working, so don't try :) So I can go out to the barn with the pack and they will all lay and wait for me to get done feeding sheep-they won't go in the pen unless asked and don't pace the fence working the stock. Are they watching the stock? HECK YES! They ARE sheepdogs after all :) But they know I am just there to do chores...and I don't need them. My sheep are close to my house, but I can let my dogs out in the yard to enjoy being outside and they don't go try to work the sheep.

BUT...if I leave the front door with one dog, that dog stalks all the way to the field :) They know work is going to happen! Makes it very black and white for them! I don't work dogs in brace, so this works well for me. Same thing with agility training :) By yourself = work....with the pack = no work. Black and white :) No pun intended :)

So even at the age of 13 weeks my puppies understand there is a time to work and a time to relax. Or at least they are well on their way to understanding this (Lynn thinks these ideas are soooooo silly and useless--Even gets the idea though, or at least is getting it better than Lynn :)

There is nothing wrong with having a high drive dog, I LOVE them, I want all my dogs to be very driven to work stock and run agility. But a dog that is never "off" is just not healthy. Dogs need down time to relax just like people do.

Would love to hear other ideas on what everyone else does!

7 comments:

Dianna said...

Very interesting post. I never thought about the fact that you could train an off switch...just figured I was lucky my dogs have one. Now reading this, I guess there are things I do without realizing it (mostly just expect them to lie down, chew bones etc, when I have other things to do) to help build the relaxed dog. Completely agree with the mental excercise...that completely wears my dogs out. Mindless running and barking and chasing apparently isnt that tiring, but make them think...they are exhausted!

An English Shepherd said...

Mental exercise seems to tire out the two Border Collies that live with me. Dare is exhausted after an hour of obedience training but could dash around the house all day without getting tired at all.

Of course us English Shepherds are meant to be born with an off switch ;-)

Wizz :-)

stickitbc said...

That was a REALLY AWESOME post:))) Liked reading it and will keep it in mind for further info:))

Sarah said...

Nice post, I was just thinking of writing something like this (for myself) - i might post what i write here (kill two birds with one stone!!)

My guys learn their spots (beds) - all of which are konked out on them as I write this. we are pretty boring in the house - there is a time and a place - they aren't crated in the house at all really. I work at home, so they know just because I am here doesn't mean it is play time - i limit toys in the house, though Gyp enjoys a quick game of fetch with Pete's old socks, at 6 30 am while we drink coffee.

30 minutes of mental work outdoes an hour of mindless fetch I agree, i find the balance in that, i walk all three dogs everyday (at once, with three leashes in one hand) sometimes we go swim at the river, sometimes we run in the fields. They do get ONE day off a week where they do NOTHING, usually no walk or a really short one, and we just take it easy and they aren't asked to do much, but cuddle.

funny how some people can't keep one dog under control. i admire that you have 7 and probably are more well behaved than some one or 2 dog households.

i might be rambling, been up since 4am ....

fulltiltbcs said...

Exactly...how they are managed :) I think also some people LIKE it that their dogs don't have off switches...which I cannot fathom why that would be something cool...but to each his own!

BCxFour said...

I have 'off switches' on Ranger, Beth and Bonnie & working on it with Brynn - because I have always expected it. To me it is incomprehensible if they do not respect my 'authority' enough to not call off something or me. We struggle with Beth on her 'off switch' as she challenges us so I make sure her trigger's are put away, i.e. toys/balls. To set her up for success I make sure all access to toys is through me. She is terrible at self entertainment. Then I provide plenty of other things to do in the house while they are chillin' out such as bones, chews and puzzle toys - things that allow them to self entertain.

I also ensure they have adequate daily exercise or mental stimulation - like you said in your post - that is the key. It is unfair to expect them to settle if they dont get it.

BCxFour said...

PS that was a fantastic post!