In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a technique I’ve been doing with certain dogs who have anxiety problems.
Anxiety issues are huge for many dogs. Sometimes they’re big and the dog is terrified of everything. Sometimes they’re small and the dog is just a little bit anxious when he’s around people or other dogs. Regardless of which issue you’re dealing with, this is an exercise that I stumbled upon years ago and found to help quite a bit. In practice it’s very simple, so I’d like to share it with you.
Let me tell the story of how I uncovered this technique. A year ago I was working with a client. I noticed that every time we told the dog to lie down, it would walk over next to the wall or furniture to do so. That dog wanted to be next to something large before it could lie down. The best option would obviously be to lie down next to its owner’s feet, but if we didn’t allow that then the dog would want to lie down near a coffee table or a couch.
I realized that the dog was actually gaining strength from the wall. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but any time that a dog is getting strength from an outside source means that it’s not getting that strength from inside itself. With this particular dog, I practiced a down stay in the middle of the room for 30-45 minutes every day, and it produced marked improvement.
We actually recommend this extended down stay technique to most of our clients, whether their dog is dealing with anxiety or not. But there’s a difference between a regular place command and a place command in the center of a room.
Here’s why: when a dog is on a bed or a mat, they gain strength from that object and doesn’t feel vulnerable. But if you ask the dog to go to the middle of the floor (or yard or park), where there’s nothing close to them, then even dogs who previously had great down stays start to get nervous. They don’t know what to do, and might even break the down stay.
So if you first begin this technique with a dog that has anxiety, you’ll probably find that the dog breaks the stay every minute. In fact, I did this exercise today with a client whose dog will normally stay for an hour. But as soon as we did one in the middle of the room, that dog got up to move every minute. With a little practice, however, she got better and better.
This exercise is fantastic help for anxiety because it forces the dog to adapt, and adaptation means getting stronger. Some dogs will just sit nervously in the middle of the floor for the first few days or weeks, but remember that all you’re asking is for your dog to lie in the middle of the room. It’s not an inappropriate request. If, however, I were asking the dog to lie down next to the lawn mower and saw him shaking with fear, then I would probably need to change my parameters for the exercise.
As it is, all the dog has to do is lie down in the middle of the floor without moving. The dog might be a little stressed, but after that initial period of wondering “What do I do?” they usually settle in. Most dogs will show a marked improvement in mental strength in a few days.
Some people might say, “Who cares if my dog lies down in the middle of the room? It’s not a big deal.” Maybe not, but I have noticed a nice collateral effect that comes from this exercise. See, lying down in the middle of a room actually gives a dog strength that shows in other parts of their lives. They become a mentally tougher dog because they’ve done this exercise.
If you use my methods and you’re already in the habit of using a long down stay every day, then you might want to move that exercise to the middle of the floor. If you’re looking for solutions to your dog’s anxiety, why don’t you see if you can get some traction with this activity?
You’ve got nothing to lose because it’s so easy to do. At first, you’ll probably need to get up and down a lot when your dog keeps breaking the down stay. But after a while, you’ll have a much more comfortable dog. I hope this exercise works as well for you as it has for me!