Training In The Right State of Arousal

When training your dog, it is really important to have your dog focused, excited, and driven to work. These all comprise the dog’s state of arousal. A dog’s natural state of arousal can vary depending upon the dog’s temperament. Some dogs are more laid back, have lower work ethics, are more independent, etc. That said, some dogs live “on the edge” spending most of their time over aroused and so high that they can’t focus on the task at hand. It is our job as trainers to help the dog move to the proper state of arousal so that learning can occur.

Think about these questions and assess your relationship with your own dog.

  • Does the dog have too much freedom so they take you for granted? Do they spend too much time with you so you aren’t really fun? Is your dog REALLY excited when you have been away for a while, the dog has been in a crate, and they are thrilled to see you again? If so, then this dog probably spends too much time on a regular basis ‘doing their own thing’.
  • Is your dog very driven and excited when you first start training but after a few minutes the drive diminishes and the dog loses focus and attention? Or slows down when doing skills? If so, this may be a dog that needs very short training sessions, lots of ‘play breaks’ to keep arousal state higher, etc.
  • When you get ready to train (i.e., get out toys/food in preparation, possibly prepare an ice chest to come to class, put on certain clothes which indicate training, etc.) does your dog become more excited? Or go hide?
  • When you leave your dog on the stay line in agility, is the dog over the edge and totally unable to hold a sit, yet can remain in a sit at other times with light proofing? Or is your dog unable to hold a sit anywhere, anytime?

State of arousal is so important to having effective training. When you get ready to train, if your dog tends to be under-aroused, not driven, not animated, etc., then you need to do something to raise the arousal state before you start working on skills or you are inadvertently teaching your dog to be a ‘slug’. Use a very excited voice, interact and play with a toy, go straight from tugging to a skill, keep it very short and maintain the higher arousal state.

If your dog is more excited when you have been gone, then reduce the amount of freedom that your dog has to be ‘with you’. Baby gate them in another room when you are busy doing something else, place them in a crate in another room so they cannot see you, do things to build their desire to WANT to work with you.

If your dog tends to live ‘on the edge’, then you need to do things to build self-control in the dog and teach them to control and manage their arousal state. Work on self-control before engaging them in training, spend more time rewarding position and control instead of building more arousal by playing wild games of tug or doing agility sequences. When working on recalls, reward the sit more often than you build drive for them to come bolting off of the sit and coming to you.

Effective training is all about learning your own dog, managing that dog’s environment, and understanding what you need to do to help that dog be successful.
Happy Training … DeNise