Importance of Space for Dogs and Puppies
The key to any training, puppy or dog is...SPACE. Becoming more aware of your environment and how the lack of space w/ certain things creates pressure on your dog.
-Neighbor saying hi to you
-Friendly dog down the street -holiday decorations outside -barking dog behind a fence
Sean O’shea, another dog trainer that has written articles on space, he came up with this as a good intro:
“If there’s a crazy person loose in the state next to you, you’re probably not very worried for your own safety. If you hear he’s in your city, you’ll be more aware, but not likely freaking out yet. If you hear he’s in your neighborhood you’re going to be freaking out and likely barricading yourself in your home. If you were outside and he was walking towards you, well, that’s real PANIC TIME!!!
That’s the magic of space. Get enough space and just about anything scary is tolerable. Get too close to something unnerving and panic sets in. Sometimes all you need is a foot or two to be cool, and sometimes it’s a lot more (the Good Dog Way blog 2017)”.
I’m not only talking about things that scare your dog or puppy (though that is a concern). This goes for things that are creating a large amount of excitement as well.
We utilize space to challenge dogs and puppies, but also to create success. For instance you just want to be able to walk by your neighbors working in their yard without your dog going nuts with excitement. Yes, you should learn how to hold your dog accountable, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, but you also need to practice how to use space and pressure for long term success.
Specific Training Example:
You see your neighbor getting out of their car. You say hello while bubbling out into the grass as far from the front of their house as possible. Your dog is very excited, barely holding it together. Then, walk across the street and work them across the street more calmly. Holding them accountable will mean more and you can have success with asking for a sit and a proper heel. Do a few turns, etc. When the dog really settles, cross back over, even though the neighbor is probably in the house by now. This is how you utilities space for proper training, building good habits and working your dog through their emotions and/or previous bad habits.
Next point is dogs are animals that don’t rationalize, therefor they are very in tune with certain instincts we don’t use much anymore. (I know you knew that, but bare with me). So if a nervous, but aggressive dog is barked at, they are observing their surroundings, deciding where they can flee to. Looking for the exit or the escape. Especially if they have had training and instead of reacting (barking/lunging), they are looking for the out. Puppies will do this too and flee when they just hear barking. Puppies OFTEN bolt into the street because it’s an open space. In these situations your dog needs to know you will give them more space so they don’t need to look for the exit and have that fight or flight response.
An example is a dog coming right at you is very calm looking and you easily can stay along the wall you are walking with your dog. Your dog is curious, but stays with you. Doesn’t seem to mind the lack of space.
The next dog you see is pulling hard towards your dog, desperate to say hi, staring at them intensely. Your dog starts to become jittery and unsure. In their head they are trying to figure out how to respond and they physically feel pressure from you, being one leash and the wall so they have no place to go but forward or back. If you don’t make a decision for them quickly, they will choose fight or flight (or extreme excitement depending on the behavior you are working on). You have to get out and around or that lack of space becomes a pressure cooker!
The flip side is your dog can see that same dog out in an open park and be just fine and still listen to you because of space.
Dogs that feel the pressure cooker often will turn towards reactivity in a matter of weeks or months as a way to cope. Another reason we talk about leadership and space so often, even young puppies.
“The point is, the pressure your dog feels, and how he reacts is absolutely situational and contextual. You can’t expect your dog to have a one-size-fits-all reaction. He’s a complex emotional creature, and he’s going to determine the level of pressure he feels – and how he reacts – dependent upon lots of factors.
-More space equals more comfort. Sometimes just 1, 2, or 3 feet of movement away from the trigger can alleviate the boil-over.
-Dogs that your dog has developed a grudge (or simply a bad habit like greeting and playing on the street) with will be the toughest challenges.
-Dogs see and feel being trapped, so be keenly aware of not putting yourselves in no- escape, high-pressure spaces.
-Dogs see/feel the intent, attitude, nastiness, posturing of other dogs, and act accordingly.
-Dogs see whether owners have control and whether they are confident or freaked, and act accordingly. (The Good Dog Way Blog, 2017)”
All successful dog training starts and ends with how you utilize space for success and then space to challenge to build tolerance to different situations. The better you are at utilizing space 95% of the time, the more tolerant your dog or puppy will be of the unexpected close situations you can’t navigate easily. Hopefully this article puts your mind in the right space (haha, see how I did that) in order to take different techniques, advice and training you learn and apply to your dog more successfully.
Credit for the idea for this blog goes to The Good Dog. This specific article is something I have been giving clients for years to prep them for dog training with us. I hope you have found some value in it.