Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

I’ve Got Your Back!

SunnyImagine living with someone who scared you every day, even if they didn’t mean to, they did. Imagine living with someone who at any moment might put you in a situation in which you were scared, and they did nothing! This is how many fearful dogs live their lives, anticipating being scared and then being scared, by one thing or another.

The training advice given to people regarding how to interact with their fearful dogs often includes the admonition to ‘ignore’ your scared dog, as though paying attention to your dog is going to confirm to them they have reason to be afraid.* Now imagine being with a friend and being afraid of something and rather than your friend acknowledging that you’re afraid they pretend you don’t exist. Does this make you feel better? Now imagine that your friend takes your hand and says, “Don’t worry it will be fine”. Does this make you more afraid? Hopefully not! Our dogs are not that different from us when it comes to being scared.

I was told a story recently. My husband and I were having lunch with his niece, her husband and his parents. As is often the case the conversation got around to dogs, I trust you know how that goes! The young fellow’s mother shared this story with us about her son-

As a boy he had enrolled in a training class with his beloved dog. It was the first night of class and the trainer had the group walking around the ring practicing heeling. One dog in the class consistently pulled on its leash and the trainer intervened, took the leash from the owner and ‘hung’ the dog, lifting it off its feet while the dog flailed and choked. When the procession around the room resumed and the boy and his dog were near the door he turned and walked straight out of the class, never to return. He was not going to let anything like that happen to HIS dog.

I loved the story and I loved the boy, now a man, who knew in his young heart that it was his responsibility to protect his dog. I let my fearful dog know every day that I have his back, so he doesn’t have to worry and keep glancing over it.

*Ignoring a fearful dog IS often the best way to deal with them when you are new to each other and have not established a relationship with them.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Just fun & games

Just fun & games

In a class for reactive dogs a sheltie was described by participants watching the dog interact with its owner, as ‘demanding’. And there was no question that it was. If the owner was not interacting with the dog it jumped and pawed at her and its high pitched bark was enough to make us all cringe. This was the kind of dog that made you think that maybe the problems you had with your own dog weren’t so bad!

Even though the way to work with this dog might not change regardless of why it behaved the way it did, I noted the response I had to the dog when it was labeled ‘demanding’ as opposed to anxious, confused, uncomfortable, upset or bored. It’s not easy for me to like a ‘demanding’ dog, but I can sympathize with a dog that is anxious or bored. I suggest that dog owners try this experiment.

The next time you come up with a reason as to why your dog behaves the way it does, think of 2 or 3 other reasons for the behavior. Have one of those reasons be that your dog is anxious. Think your dog is jealous, angry, stubborn? How about insecure, scared or inexperienced instead?

You can take this exercise one step further and when working with a behavior that is challenging for your dog, consider training your dog to do the opposite. Do you want your dog to play at the dog park? Instead of trying to teach your dog to get along with other dogs, work on teaching your dog to ignore other dogs. Do you wish your dog could greet people calmly and happily? Rather than teaching your dog to approach people, work on teaching your dog to move away from people.

As John Rogerson, a trainer from the U.K., said at a seminar I attended, “People have all the theories, dogs have all the facts.” Be willing to re-think your theories.

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