Because there are so many herding breeds that compete and excel in dog agility, nipping is more common than you may think. While some dogs nip when they get frustrated at slow directionals from the handler more get so revved up in their run that they nip while the handler is trying to leave the course.
We asked you what you would do in the situation of a sheltie that developed this habit and you gave us some great ideas on how to understand our dogs and help them unlearn this annoying and often times painful behavior. Here is what you said:
“Ignore the bad behavior” and “Acknowledge the Good Behavior”. When your sheltie pops with excite is too late to curb his/her enthusiasm. Watch for the early warning signs of your sheltie beginning to rev out of their usual concentration and react to his/her surroundings vs. on you. Obedience starts in the home. So begin talking to your sheltie in his/her own language such as expressing canine Calming Signals of subtle: drawn out yawning, leisurely stretch out your arms out infront of you and glance coyly at your sheltie from the corner of your eye. You will begin to see that your sheltie will express, “You do understand my language” and begin to react to your request to calm. When your sheltie succeeds to bridge these beggining signs of calming – and can then settle himself – then and only then – acknowledge this good reciprocating “listening behavior” by adding tranquil even strokes and soothing voice. Until he/she reciprocates calm – just ignore the exuberance, do as their litter mate would do during bad behavior towards themselves, they would turn away, walk away in efforts to Ignore the rude behavior (yes, you can walk out of the room or look at the ceiling to wait until you see an initial glimpse for a positive response signal that he/she is attentive to you and providing you with good attention and settling themself down – stopping the low/entry level of excitement). When you can calm your dog without distractions (may take days or weeks), advance and try your calming charma when in your yard and during a moment when there are known distractions that cause your dog subtle excitement levels, and not setting your dog up to fail. Start to succeed with proven low level triggers (where your dog normally is passive when a person walks quietly by at a distance without dogs and not at high alert status instances such as a squirrel scurrying or chattering away tauntingly in the trees) and gradually raise the bar to assure your success is communicating clearly with your sheltie.
At the end of your practice runs try throwing a handful of small treats at your dog. Don’t say anything. Just throw the treats. This will startle and distract him, and should have a calming effect. You obviously would not be able to do this at a trial, but if your dog learns to calm down at the end of a run in practice, this should carry over to a trial. Throwing treats (not to be confused with giving treats as a reward) is the advice my Control Unleashed instructor Kienan Brown gave me to control unwanted barking.
Harriet Markell says:
For the dog that is revved up after the run, my suggestion is to train your dog to do something specific after the last obstacle – like get his leash and do a down or sit while you put it on. Then walk out of the arena at a heel or similar and no rewards til breathing slows. This would take lots of work in class and at home, but would give the dog something to do other than go nuts.
For the dog that is so revved up during the run, I’d back up and slow the dog down, only do a few obstacles at a time, treat and get her to do something calm, like a down. When her breathing slows down, she gets to do a few more obstacles. May mean no trials for awhile, but what you describe is not fun for either of you.
I don’t know if this will help but, I would try to teach an immediate down on command first. Once the dog knows what to do, give the command once and give the dog time to figure out, no down no reward. Do this while in the house, then playing in the yard, everywhere you take him, often during your time together. Start to delay the reward until you get him by the collar or pick him up (whatever you do at a trial) Then, I would start with only a jump or two running as if in a trial demanding the down at the end of performance, in a calm voice, tell him good. Reach down, get the dog by the collar or pick him up, no excitement,very calm, walk the dog or carry him over to the leash (as in a trial) put it on then reward. Work with a hungry dog. If the dog doesn’t go down, no treat, no more play stand there and by this time (if taught properly while training away from the jumps) when given time to figure it out the dog should go down. Keep everything low keyed and work in short training sessions. Work your way up to doing more and more obsticles. Try to go to classes and run throughs where you can work on this. Remember that you are working on this problem while there so don’t get him too exited, probably just do the last couple of jumps. Don’t pick the dog up (if you normally do) until the dog goes down. No ruffing, excited patting, just a calm getting the dog and putting on the leash. Now the hard part……I wouldn’t go to any real trials until I have this under control. It doesn’t take much to undo all you gain through training. One good thing is that Shelties are VERY smart and learn fast (sometimes too fast)
All great ideas that should help anyone out there with a dog that gets too revved up at the end of the run. If you have a different idea, please share below in the comments so others can try that as well.