Trying a Behavioral Down: Building Pup Confidence?

During puppy class with Lizzie, our trainer explained this confidence building exercise called a behavioral down. Since I'm always looking for new exercises to help prepare the pups to be therapy dogs, I listened carefully. Unfortunately, I didn't write any of the instructions down, so when I gave this exercise a try a few weeks later, I was going off my memory of watching her demonstration in class.

The idea is that you put your dog on a leash with no toys or distractions around. You give the dog enough lead so that he can sit without actually going anywhere. Create an atmosphere of complete boredom, give the pup no where to go, wait until he stops fighting the boredom by wrestling around, and he lies down. Twice.

Bernie is a pretty active pup. He likes his social interactions and his toys. He can also get pretty anxious in some circumstances. This controlled down exercise sounded perfect. I could help him understand that if he doesn't know what to do, he should just settle into a relaxed down. 

Getting started with the behavioral down...

After leaving Lizzie in the bedroom with Matthew, I put Bernie on our twenty foot lead. As you can see in the picture, it's not terribly thick so I can easily step on it to create the environment where Bernie has no where to go. He was clearly disturbed by this course of events.

I was prepared with a large glass of water, my iPad, and a new episode of Frontline to watch. 

Bernie McSquare does not seem to mind trying out the controlled down training exercise.

Timing our progress...

On my iPad I had Evernote open ready to take copious notes on all of Bernie's pulling and thrashing while keeping track of how much time he spent on each stage of his progress into the behavioral downs. Remember, he has to go down twice.

He sat.

For about nine minutes.

He was watching Frontline with me standing there.

Bernie McSquare sitting and watching a little TV during controlled down training exercise.


At one point, there was a dog barking during the Frontline episode. Bernie saw the dog's face in a close up, so he barked and tried moving toward the TV. I stayed still, so he went no where.

Bernie went back to sitting.

He didn't pull again. Even though the Frontline dog showed his face a few more times, Bernie did not try moving toward the TV. He got a little "poofty" sitting there vocalizing his frustration that he could not nose the dog on the TV. However, when the Frontline mom started crying and wiping away tears, he just sat watching her. Her truly looked empathetic.

Settling in for the first down...

After about 31 minutes, Bernie settled into a down. This down is supposed to be a relaxed assured down.

Bernie McSquare relaxes into a down during the controlled down training exercise

Anxiety rears up...

While Bernie remained quiet for about a minute into this first down, he did start gnawing his front left paw. He chewed away for about five minutes.

Bernie shows a little stress with his paw gnawing during the controlled down training exercise.

Checking in with Mom...

When he was done with chewing his paw, he sat up and looked at me. Normally, I love it when he checks in with me, but this time, I ignored him.

He watched Frontline for another few minutes. Just sitting.

After another few minutes, he settled into his second down. I left him alone for the last few minutes of the Frontline episode. 

Bernie McSquare settling into his second down during the controlled down training exercise.
Trying a Controlled Down: Building Pup Confidence?

My expectation was that I might be watching a few TV episodes while I waited for my sometimes anxious pup to settle into two different downs. Instead, he settled twice within 45 minutes. 

I don't know if these results are good or bad. I need to check with our trainer that my method was correct. 

I do wonder if Bernie's comfort level with me is high enough that being bored with Mom is no big deal. In which case, if I'm the handler, does this exercise build his confidence? If I had someone else try this exercise with him, how would his reaction change? Would the stress of a stranger as handler be beneficial in building his confidence during this training exercise?

Would a different handler build his confidence more?
Or is there something I should have done differently?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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