Our outing at Champoeg State Park started off like any other trip there with the girls. Bindi (11 yr old, Border Collie x Pug x ?) and Katia (3 yr old, Black Russian Terrier x Rottweiler) were frolicking around in the grass, happy to be out of the house. It had just been raining for multiple days straight (no surprise for January in the Pacific Northwest) and in many places the ground was covered with a good 2 inches or more of standing fresh rainwater. After so many days of downpour, the soil just couldn't absorb any more liquid, and in many places, new little creeks were forming to transport the water downhill. The girls were thrilled!
Bindi and Katia LOVE playing in the water. Katia will swim if there's a thrown stick involved, but mostly they both like splashing around in shallow pools. Because of the rain and it being midday on a Wednesday, there were no other people or dogs in sight. The acres and acres of perfectly shallow ponds were solely for us to explore and enjoy. And boy did the girls enjoy them!
press to zoom
press to zoom
After awhile, I started to think that maybe we should wrap up. Since it had been raining so consistently, and I had been exceptionally busy with work for the weeks leading up to this outing, both girls had been on a pretty low exercise routine. I was worried that we may be pushing the limits of Bindi's senior joints and that both girls could use a bit of a cool off period after their hundredth fast lap around the water track. We headed for higher ground to find a nice settle spot in the dry grass.
The girls were buzzing. Even after I found a comfy place to sit on the ground, they struggled to settle. Typically, I add settle time into every walk. I make sure the dog gets an appropriate amount of exercise to tap into their physical energy, I practice skills and games to tap into their mental energy, and I add an enrichment component to help the dog feel truly satisfied and relaxed before finding a quiet place to wind down. I then find a bench, retaining wall, quiet corner in the pet store, or some similar place where we can spend a little time just breathing, watching the surroundings, and relaxing after a stimulating, engaging session together. This routine of incorporating Skills, Exercise, Enrichment, and Downtime (the SEED Schedule) is something I teach every client and encourage for every dog owner. I even have a full 1-hour webinar that goes through the process of balancing these four components to help create Successful, Struggle-Free Days with Your Dog.
So, why weren't the girls able to calm down? We over did it. Dog behavior often is quite similar to toddler behavior. When toddlers are overstimulated, we tend to see more hyperactivity, tantrums, compulsive behavior, manic behavior, even aggressive behavior - same goes for our dogs. Dogs can be overstimulated by too much exercise, too much stimulation in the environment, too long of a training or information gathering session (think about being stuck in a classroom for too long), or too much socializing (all the introverts are nodding at this one - I hear ya!).
I like to simplify this concept into a "Doggie Point Scale" that represents the dog's arousal level: 0=asleep, 1-2=very relaxed, 2-3=calm and observant, 4-5=engaged and focused, 6-7=aroused and distractible, 8-10=crazy dog/out of body experience/brain is no longer functioning! The dog is always somewhere on their Doggie Point Scale, so recognizing their arousal state can go a long way in helping us help them in that moment. At this point in our outing, the girls were stuck at around a 7 or 8. They were worked up, and sitting still in the grass did not seem like a logical behavior for them.
Many dog owners would see this general busyness and think "wow, she still has energy left, guess I should keep throwing the ball". However, I think a lot of parents of small children are now making the connection that "oh, she needs a nap". Nothing good comes from an interaction with an over tired toddler - working with an over tired dog is equally unproductive and frustrating. Because I was out walking "the dogs", I wasn't able to pay attention to the subtle signs that each dog was creeping up on that point scale. I generally check in with the dog I am walking quite often. I make sure that we are still communicating well and I watch their body language for shifts and changes throughout every outing. Since I was out with both girls at the same time, I had been looking at them more as one unit, rather than the individuals they are.
Thankfully, I did finally recognize that Downtime was still the quadrant worth focusing on, so I pulled out the goodies (string cheese rolled in various leftover treat crumbs - the best!) and began working on sit, down, stay, play dead, bow, and other body motions that encourage calmness and stretching. The girls were pretty keen to work for cheese, so this worked quite nicely. I began watching them take deep breaths, relax their hips and shoulders, slow their panting, and commit to holding positions for longer durations. Success! Time to head home and take a nap!
And then they took off. Like, gone. They sprinted so far across the field that I could barely make out the dog shaped blobs that were charging away, barking their faces off... The poor lady who was walking through the field...