When Your Dog Breaks

When your dog breaks a STAY command or bolts from you, stop for a minute to consider the motivation for his behavior. There are times when a correction is not appropriate—if, for example, he broke a SIT-STAY because he was moving to get out of the way of a cyclist or a car.

Your dog will break a direction for one of five reasons. The following table outlines those reasons, what each one looks like, and what your ideal response to each should be.

Reason for Break Body Language Your Response Comments

Confusion/fear

Lowered posture, not moving or slinking away; stands there waiting for another direction from you

No eye contact, gently reposition, do not interact, stay close; simplify the

When a dog breaks because he's confused, he often stands there waiting for another direction from you. Don't look at your dog or correct him. Calmly command him from a distance or, if necessary, go to him and reposition him.

Startled

Quick jumps, body oriented toward sound/stimulus

Instruct back into position; approach calmly and reposition only if necessary

People get startled, dogs get startled. Stay calm as you reposition your dog to show him that all is okay with the world.

Separation anxiety

Tail and head lowered, moving toward you

Don't touch, avoid eye contact, gently reposition, remain at dog's side, decrease difficulty of exercise

This dog is overwhelmed. He wants to be near you for reassurance. Do not shout at or correct him, as this will increase his level of anxiety. Calmly return him to his place and stay nearby. Gradually increase your distance while he's on-leash.

Defiance

Racing away, a quick stare over his shoulder

Lower your head, walk calmly and quickly to your dog's side, lift the leash or hook your finger under his collar, tug firmly, say NO, and return to position. Use a training collar to reinforce the concept of NO.

This dog has no interest in following your direction. Strong-minded and self-assured, he just leaves, most likely when a new element is introduced: either a high-level distraction like a person or a dog, or a new location.

Testing

Walking away, continually checking in with you visually

Lower your head; go to dog calmly, and step on his leash. Return him to the original position without interaction. Instruct STAY and make the exercise simpler.

This response is often accompanied with a play bow; it is a sign of your dog's tension at your expectation. Simplify your request and correct your dog's mischief with a NO and a leash tug.

TIP

L

When a dog breaks a command, it is often because you've increased the difficulty of the exercise before he's ready to take on the challenge. Look at everything from your dog's perspective; if you're in a new location, decrease your expectation and distance initially.

When a dog breaks a command, it is often because you've increased the difficulty of the exercise before he's ready to take on the challenge. Look at everything from your dog's perspective; if you're in a new location, decrease your expectation and distance initially.

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