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Knowing When to Stop Play or Training
Identifying the moment
It's going so well, but how long will it last?

As our sons were playing at the park after soccer practice, my friend and I both watched uneasily. All four boys were getting along. They were laughing and nobody was left out. I said, “I wonder how long this can last. They’re hungry and they’ve already played soccer for an hour.”

She answered, “I was just thinking the same thing. It seems that it’s always when I think everything is going great that trouble sprouts up in a big way and I realize I should have cut things off already.”

It reminded me of certain aspects of working with dogs.

It’s a basic principle of working with a dog with behavioral issues that if you say to yourself, “Wow! This is going better than I expected. I think I can push on a little further,” that you must NOT do so. Every behaviorist and trainer has had to learn this by committing the error, but the time to stop is when things are going well.

It’s so often the case that people don’t follow this rule, with the result that the session starts to go south. I find this is especially true when working to help a fearful dog overcome fears or when dogs are playing exuberantly.

I mentioned this to my friend and her response interested me. She told me that she asked her mom, who is a preschool teacher, how she decides to stop an activity that’s going well and in which the kids are all behaving well for a longer time than expected. Her mom’s answer was, “That’s the moment. Right when everything is going better than you could have hoped for and over a longer period of time, you must move on to something else.”

Have you had the experience of letting your dogs continue what they were doing because it was going so well, only to realize a few minutes too late that you should have changed things up earlier?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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