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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10 comments so far

  1. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    Ah, yes … attention seeking behavior. Until our behaviorist told me otherwise … I thought Lilly just LOVED me a whole lot. I was a little sad to train it away, but it did make her more independent and more confident, not to use me as her woobie all the time.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s bittersweet isn’t it? Your approach was fantastic because it was the Lilly’s confidence and growth that allowed her to feel safer in her world, as opposed to ‘forcing’ a dog to suck it up and deal! Thanks for sharing Roxanne!

  2. Blueszz on

    Good post! I can name numerous situations were dog behavior was addressed like: affectionate (dog wanted to rub the halti from his know against owners legs), having fun rolling in the grass (dog was not comfortable with the surroundings), not obedient (dog kept sniffing the grass to calm angry onwer).
    Sjaak my Boerenfox tended to jump a lot during training classes. It was the trainer that told me it might be because he wasn’t comfortable with the surroundings. Eye openener! I’m glad she recognized the behavior as I think she was right.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you once again for your insightful comment. Heck I bet most of us get people’s intentions wrong never mind a dog’s!

  3. Susan Vaitekunas on

    This reminds me of a recent experience I had in an obedience class.I am working with my rescue dog who is working through aggression issues ,mainly leash and boundary aggression.He is a wonderful dog off leash but is stressed and uncomfortable as soon as his ability to flee is taken away.There are no reactive or growly dog classes in my area so I did a lot of work on my own and with a private trainer.I Having got his reactivity to the point where it was feasible to expose him to other dogs in close proximity I signed him up for a tricks class at a nearby well respected dog training facility.Now from my perspective Atim did quite well under what was for him a very challenging enviroment and circumstances but for the first 2 or 3 sessions he lost it towards the latter part of the hour long class and started barking at me.The instructor said to me”He’s blowing you off. You can”t let him get away with that”Well from my perspective my dog was communicating to me “I’m tired and I can”t/don’t want to do this anymore today.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sounds like you are doing a fabulous job with your dog! An hour is a long time for both dog and handler especially when working with a dog that you pay close attention to and for the dog which is experiencing stress, even at a low level. I find that both Sunny and I are done after about 45 minutes, he starts to check out and stare at the exit more and I have had enough too, so we call it quits.

      Your comment also points out the attitude that is far too prevalent among trainers and dog owners and that is that our dogs are essentially in an adversarial relationship with us. It’s only by our commitment to maintaining ‘dominance’ and forcing dog to comply to our will, that we manage to keep them from taking over the world. Pat on the back to you for seeing beyond it!

  4. gaelenscafe on

    Wow–very well said (and a J. Rogerson quote, too, which is one of my favorites.) I do try not to automatically assign a descriptor to a dog which is going to nudge either me or the owner into responses and courses that aren’t going to help. There are times when a dog IS ignoring the owner for reasons other than stress or fear, but in my experience, reactivity that starts after class has been on-going for more than 10-15 minutes is a signal that the dog is nearing his expiration. Both dog and owner need to switch gears and get out of the reactive situation for a few minutes, after which they can (sometimes, maybe) come back into the situation for another few minutes, quit on a high note and call it a night. And sometimes, there is no coming back after a break, because the dog hasn’t built up that much tolerance or self-control yet, or because the owner is too frustrated to focus. Either way, while I always worked to keep my obedience students engaged, I find that these days as a class student, *I* manage class stimulation much better if the input comes in short bursts rather than a full class of constant input. I might start being reactive after a full hour class — or more likely, just shut down. ;0

    Well-written!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks so much for taking the time to response and coming from a great writer like yourself, your compliment means a lot to me (well all compliments mean a lot to me truth be told!). I’m sure your training insights will be useful to readers as well.

  5. RobD on

    There’s good info here. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog. Keep up the good work mate! 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for taking the time to share that info!


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