Dear Julie,

I have a miniature sheltie who insists on running around in circles barking continuously at me when we get ready to go for our walks.  How do I get her to stop doing that?

Yours Truly,

Slowly Going Crazy

Dear Slowly Going Crazy,

Assuming the dog is receiving adequate daily exercise and mental stimulation, the easiest way to break a dog from this type of habit is to give them another behaviour to perform that is impossible to do at the same time as the problem behaviour.  For example, if I direct my dog to sit and stay just before and during the point in time she would normally run around in circles, she can’t run around in circles.  If she’s not running around in circles then she is less likely to get herself worked up to the point of barking.

This all sounds nice and easy but to put it into practice takes a lot of patience and consistency.

  • Start with your dog on a leash so you have easy control without using physical touch. This is important because for many dogs, touch reinforces the behaviour they just performed.  So if I hold my dog still with my hands after she ran around in circles I am actually rewarding the running in circles.
  • Direct your dog to SIT and STAY, in a clear even tone of voice.
  • As soon as your dog complies with your command give her a YES, GOOD GIRL! The word YES is the positive behaviour marker.  This means that every time she complies with a command, even if it takes 5 times, she will get that YES.  The praise (GOOD GIRL) will only be given for following the command the first time.
  • Once your dog is in the sit and stay position, slowly begin to get ready for your walk (put your coat and shoes on, etc.).
  • The moment your dog begins to break her stay give her a verbal correction, one short sharp HEY! shorten the leash so she can’t move far from the spot your told her to stay in and redirect her to SIT and STAY.
  • Once she is back into a sit and stay, give her the YES to mark her compliance and begin again. Repeat this process until it’s time to walk out the door. When you release her from her stay, tell her OKAY, and praise her for a job well done.
  • One very important thing to remember while practicing this is to make sure that you always speak your commands in a clear, even and controlled tone of voice. Yelling at your dog only makes them nervous or tunes you out, which is not healthy for developing a positive relationship.