Building Tolerance To Frustration

I recently met with a client and her new puppy. The puppy, a four-month-old named Daisy, weighed fifteen pounds. It was expected that Daisy would be at least forty-five pounds when fully grown.

Daisy was taken from her litter at five weeks of age and placed with a rescue. By the time she was adopted, Daisy was eight weeks old. That meant that she was missing a good bit of important social experiences that puppies are usually exposed to. Careful introduction to people, children, appropriate dogs, other puppies, places, things, sounds, sights, and novel objects was begun right away. Daisy’s adopter saw the importance of this plan and enthusiastically followed it to the letter.

When we met again to evaluate Daisy’s progress, I noticed that Daisy was happily pulling her adopter towards me while on leash. At our third session, Daisy again pulled her owner to me, this time with even more strength and gusto. I knew it was time to teach this puppy the meaning of “good things come to those who wait!”.

Because my client was so keen on socializing her puppy, she had happily allowed Daisy to pull her towards anything and everything. Her intentions were good; she wanted Daisy to feel brave and comfortable in the world by exploring anything that came to Daisy’s attention. The problem was that Daisy was also learning to pull anywhere, anytime, even if that meant dragging her human along for the ride.

Within a very short time, Daisy was going to be a sizeable dog. Pulling her family members wherever she wanted to go could be a problem for obvious reasons. Not everyone welcomes forty-five pounds of dog slamming into them! If a person preferred to not meet Daisy, Daisy wouldn’t understand why she was being prevented from  approaching. This could lead to leash-induced frustration. This example is only one the many good reasons it is important to teach a puppy the meaning of “not now, dog!”

As a behavior specialist, I am always thinking ahead: how does what is happening today influence how the dog may behave in the future? An always-important aspect of dog training is to teach tolerance to frustration and to build impulse control.

I acknowledged my client for her admirable commitment to her dog’s emotional well-being and development, and then we created a plan to teach Daisy to visit people, only now, on cue!

Here was our plan:

  • We practiced various impulse control games, teaching her how to “leave it.” Daisy’s adopter practiced these games for a couple of minutes every day.
  • We practiced rewarding Daisy for walking next to her human on leash. Daisy was rewarded at her person’s side, building value for being next to her. I asked that she practice this every day when she took Daisy for a walk.
  • We carried high value treats that were sure to capture Daisy’s attention even in the face of distractions.
  • We worked on teaching Daisy to sit before greeting people, starting about 20 feet away. In the beginning, if we were any closer, Daisy was too excited to perform the behavior. Over time, we were able to decrease that distance to about 5 feet away.
  • We put greeting people on cue, using the verbal cue “Go say hi!”
  • We practiced by using people Daisy already knew before taking it on the road with new people. Much easier to ask friends and family to help train Daisy in a set-up, versus trying to train this new skill in real-time with people who may themselves be too excited to greet a happy puppy!

Using the protocols described, I am happy to report that little Daisy quickly caught on to this new game and is now much easier to manage on leash. This will be even more appreciated (by everyone!) when she reaches her full size (and weight!)


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Positively Expert: Bobbie Bhambree

Bobbie Bhambree is a dog trainer, a dog behavior consultant, and an agility competitor with over fifteen years’ experience in dog training and behavior. Bobbie is the Founder & Director of DogCentric Training & Behavior, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants...


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