I don’t know whether you will remember but back in the sixties, there was a movie that bore this name. It became a very famous Spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood, though it is not my intention to talk about this movie here.
No… the Good, the Bad and the Ugly we are talking about here has nothing to do with a bounty hunting gunslinger or a criminal trying initially to kill the gunslinger. Nor has it anything to do with a sadistic, psychopathic enemy, the Union Army or even buried treasure worth a mind-boggling (in Wild West times) $20,000.
Or has it?
In a way, the mechanics of how excitement (which is also known as “Arousal” in behavioural science’s terms) builds in your dog’s brain and the dynamics between the 3 main characters of that film do have similarities.
You see the Gunslinger is the Good guy, he embodies the Good of excitement.
The second criminal is the Bad guy. He will cross the line but still has some honour which has him teaming up with the good guy at a crucial point in the story. This is like Bad Excitement, where your ability to make rational decisions is compromised but not completely gone out of the window.
The Sadistic psychopath, who the gunslinger and the criminal team up to beat, is the Ugly. Really Ugly! This is like the Ugly Excitement where no rational thought can be processed and as a result, bad and inappropriate decisions are made.
Excitement and how it builds and controls your dog’s behaviour involves a really complex process which is fuelled by the production of certain hormones and the interaction between those hormones in your dog’s brain.
I could go on to explain which hormones and which area of the brain is involved, but you would be fast asleep by the time I finish typing the first sentence, so I am not going to go there. No sane, none geeky, normal person would find this stuff that interesting anyway. If you do, there are plenty of other books that will cover that detail for you.
I will say though, that in very simple terms, excitement determines how your dog will respond in different situations and encounters with other dogs and people.
What we want to teach our dogs is to be able to think even if they are getting excited and fired up about something. We want them to be able to think things through before deciding how they are going to respond, and then make a good choice. A choice that does not involve becoming reactive, but one that will diffuse the situation and allow their excitement levels to calm back down to a healthy level.
This really is an important life skill to teach your dog.
The topic of Excitement is complicated so let me try and see if I can make it a little clearer.
Your dog’s excitement level will determine whether your dog is able to respond to you and the environment in the way we want them to. If your dog’s excitement levels are too high, she will start to make bad choices and start reacting negatively to the situation she finds herself in.
We need to find a way to keep the excitement at a manageable level.
Let’s have a look at some different examples to explain the good, the bad and the ugly of excitement. Hopefully, this will help you to begin to understand how excitement works.
For our dogs to be able to learn we need a certain amount of excitement to improve their learning and performance level, especially when your dog competes in agility, flyball or obedience.
We also need a certain amount of excitement in our dogs to enable them to be competitive. With pet dogs, for example, this will give us a dog that is able to respond immediately to a recall no matter what the distractions are. This is the good excitement.
But where there is Good excitement there is also Bad excitement. This happens when a dog becomes over excited and his ability to respond to our cues and requests decreases. This then results in a dog that is less careful in the choices she makes and as a result starts to make the wrong ones. These choices may lead to your dog knocking down a pole in an agility competition, in flyball, it might lead to her not catching the ball or dropping it on the return leg of her run and in obedience it will lead to missing cues.
In pet dogs, this kind of excitement is likely to result in pulling on the lead or their noses being glued to the floor as you are walking them.
Then we also have the downright Ugly end of the excitement scale. This is where the dog’s excitement level is so high that she is no longer able to respond to our requests at all. Dogs that are over-excited consistently make the wrong choices. They are unable to see the correct choices even if we present them on a gold platter.
A dog that has become extremely reactive to her environment is a dog that is over-excited or over-aroused. This is the dog that is screaming, barking and lunging at the end of the lead. The dog that bites and attacks another dog on a walk.
If you would like to learn more about how excitement levels influence your dog’s behaviour head over to my website www.nopullingallowed.co.uk and grab a copy of my new book “No Pulling Allowed”.
PS: this email series is a based on my book and the information shared here are snippets of what I talk about so if you would like the full story and learn how to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead you really should grab yourself a copy of No Pulling Allowed.