Mental Checkout

We all suffer a few brain blips here and there, and so do our dogs.  If your dog doesn’t respond instantly to your cues, it’s not due to recalcitrance or stubbornness.  He is no longer connected to you and what you two are doing.  He has mentally checked out.  

What Are the Telltale Signs That You Have Lost His Mind?

When you observe that your dog has fixated on something, you have lost his mind.  Saying his name repeatedly isn’t likely to get him back, because he may not actually hear you.  You gently touch him on the shoulder or the ear.  No response. 

Other clues that the dog’s focus on your “team” activity is waning would be aimlessly moving about and scanning the environment.  He is tuned in to everything and nothing – at the same time.  Then there’s the dog that simply stops moving and parks.  This is a physical and mental shutdown.  Behaviors out of context, such as yawning, scratching, and self-grooming are stress signals.  

How Do You Get His Mind Back?!?

For the dog who is already checked out and fixated elsewhere, you must move.  Go closer to your dog, perhaps clap your hands, and say an enthusiastic, “hey, there”.  A delay in responding to you doesn’t equal disobedience.  It just means he may need a moment to mentally work something out. 

As handlers, we must always be aware of how our dog may be processing what we are asking of him.  Are we clear?  Is the cue sufficiently trained in?  Are we throwing too much at the dog for him to process what we are asking? 

For the dog whose attention is all over the map, give him needed information.   A few leash walking phrases can help: “this way”, “walk with me”, “where are you”, “come along”, for example.  It’s likely that he will redirect to the handler who is talking to him and helping him understand that the walk together continues.  In other situations, engage him with a toy, game, or puzzle to corral his grey cells into a constructive and fun activity. 

Stay Connected

The best way to promote your dog’s connection with you is to connect with him.  Include him in as many routines as possible.  Stop leash walking your dog while talking on the cell phone.  This practice yields NO connection or great leash walking skills.  You can do activities together whether playing fetch or Frisbee or folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher.  (Sit and stay is a big help with those chores.)   Be mindful of barraging your dog with more information and directives than he can respond to.  Most of all, respect his signals.  He is telling you what is going with him in the only way he knows. 

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC