The Time Out Hug is a great tool to use when you want to calm your dog after they’ve gone ‘over threshold’ and are ‘freaking out’. If you have them on leash and they’ve suddenly begun reacting negatively to something or someone, you don’t have treats or treats aren’t working because they’re too wound up, or you don’t want to give them commands that you know they won’t listen to resulting in you dragging them away and everyone looking at you in horror, the Time Out Hug can help!
If your dog is the right size (lab sized is about the upper limit) what you will do is move them off the main path, out of the way, then stand or kneel behind them so that their rear is between your knees but they can’t escape by wiggling backwards (they can be standing or sitting), then reach forward and firmly but gently, without squeezing, hold them around the chest region. This is the hug. You want all four paws to remain on the ground and you can turn so that they are facing away from the object that triggered their reaction if that further helps. You can speak calm and business-like to them, but not angrily or too soothingly. You simply want them to realize that their action wasn’t appropriate and that they now need to have a time out until they calm back down.
The Time Out Hug allows your dog to ‘come back down to earth’ from the freaked out over reaction of earlier – without receiving praise or punishment for the situation. It’s similar to a tired toddler having a melt down – they simply couldn’t cope – but it’s not something you would reward with a treat to make it stop, nor would you punish the behavior other than taking them to go to a quiet spot to have a nap.
While you’ve got your dog in the Hug, what you’ll be waiting and watching for is your dog to begin to relax and calm down. The tension in the body will fade and the dog will quiet down. If they are standing they may sit. If they were panting their breathing will calm back to normal. The heartbeat will slow and you’ll probably see the wrinkles in the dogs forehead go away too as their face and ears return to relaxed state. Don’t allow the dog to jump up, but neither will you be pushing them down.
It really helps, as well, if you make the effort to slow your breathing and think relaxed thoughts and release the tension in your arms and shoulders to be a good example for your dog. You are in physical contact with them – your tension will become their tension if you aren’t careful. The same thing happens when you are holding the leash and ‘prepared for the worst’. You might get tense, brace yourself and tighten up on the leash. Fido is likely to sense this and get ready for whatever it is your worried about too. This is part of how a dog works, they look to you to tell them how to act or what to do in a situation, whether you verbally tell them or not. Conversely, if a dog thinks you haven’t got things dealt with, he won’t look to you. He will think he’s on his own and best be looking after the situation himself.
After the dog has had the moment to relax and come back to neutral you can slowly move your hands away (keeping hold of the leash). You should see your dog look calm and possibly a little bewildered or apologetic but ultimately happy and grateful.
This method also works great for puppies who are still learning appropriate social skills and may have gotten too rowdy during play. Repeat as necessary. You may even notice after a few repeated uses with your puppy that he calms quicker than originally and the light bulb will go on as he realizes that this is the consequence for that behaviour.