Drop these D’s

Shy Stella

I am constantly trying to eliminate the belief and the feelings I get when I assume that dogs’ failures to respond to my requests are due to their choosing to be; disobedient, defiant or dominant. Not that dogs don’t necessarily have those as motivations for behaving inappropriately but most dogs, and especially fearful dogs, likely have other things going on.

Staying with me for the next ten days is lovely little Stella, possibly a corgi/beagle mix. When I first met Stella she was unable to approach me and needed to drag a leash so I could get her to go in and out of the house as I needed her to. Her owners have done great work with her and although her first reaction to new people is to be startled, she recovers quickly and has become one of those lucky, fearful dogs that ‘once they get to know you’ is playful and happy.

Today as we headed out for our daily woods walk all the dogs eagerly scampered out of the house, except for Stella. Stella lagged behind, looking out of the open door but not moving through it. I admit that my initial response to this behavior was a tinge of impatience and frustration, ‘geesh come on already’. I had to remind myself that Stella was probably uncomfortable either going through the door and/or going past me, not uncommon problems for fearful dogs.

As with any behavior we are after with our dogs, there are different ways to get them. We can be sure that the dog knows how to perform the behavior and understands our cue for it. I could have put a leash on Stella and had her walk in and out of the door, with big rewards as we did so. I could teach Stella to target my hand or something in my hand and use that behavior to help her move through doorways.

Since Stella has gone in and out doorways before without hesitation I decided that there was something about the way I was asking for the behavior that caused her reluctance to follow the other dogs. Even if her owners used a different cue it doesn’t take much thought for a dog to follow a gang of excited dogs out the door. She wasn’t afraid of the other dogs, so I assumed I was the problem. I changed how I was standing at the door, turning my body slightly and avoiding direct eye contact as I invited her out. I waited a few seconds and when she didn’t comply I shut the door and moved away for another few seconds. I tried it again and on the third offer she came right out the door when asked.

It’s easy to become frustrated and impatient with a dog, especially if we think that they are behaving in ways that are meant to defy or confront us. Keep in the front of your mind that it’s often not a dog’s unwillingness to comply, but their inability to do so, that prevents them from doing what is being asked of them.


8 comments so far

  1. Anne on

    Four paws up as usual! This is such an important realisation for shy dog owners, me included. Once Rufus has become comfortable with something new, if there are just little, subtle change/s to the situation we are often back to square one.
    That’s why I love simple targetting behaviours as they seem to take his mind off the change, reset and try again!

    Anne & Rufus

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Anne! It’s helpful for other fearful dog owners to know they are not alone when it comes to always having to factor in their dog’s fearfulness when it comes to behaving the ways we want them to.

  2. Rod@GoPetFriendly on

    I am not a very patient person. And I found your blog and have been sniffing around. Now when my dogs are “not listening to me” I try to remember to stop … take a deep breath … and ask myself what am I doing wrong. I think the biggest factor in getting over my lack of patience is TO LEAVE MORE TIME to get done what needs to be done. If you are flying out the door to get somewhere – due to lack of good planning on your part – you’re stressed, you’re dog is stressed. Guaranteed FAIL. I HATE when I realized it’s not the dog’s fault! 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your comment Rod. I have a saying that I like, ‘Peace is achieved through patience, patience through practice.’

      It isn’t always easy to be patient and I’ve realized that most of my dogs’ inabilities to learn something is probably due to my own inability to be able to teach it effectively. So I keep practicing being patient and keep learning more about how to teach. It’s exciting because there’s always further to go on both of those fronts 😉

      • Rod@GoPetFriendly on

        You’re absolutely right (of course)…that’s why you’re the trainer! I have not been around many dogs in my life. But the ones I’ve gotten to know seem to want to do ANYTHING to please their owner and make them happy. So setting aside the 3 Ds, I am really trying to learn patience and communication. My dogs deserve it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I don’t think that dogs try to please their owners as much as they figure out which behaviors they have to offer to make the things happen that they are after.

      Maybe they do want to please us, I don’t know what they are thinking, but I know that some owners feel hurt or angry when their dogs don’t do what they want them to do and think it’s because they are not interested in ‘pleasing’ them. It may be a nitpicky kind of thing on my part, but the way we think about our dog’s behavior affects the way we respond to them.

      I suspect my dog cares less about pleasing me than he does about getting me to throw the darn frisbee 😉

      • rangerskat on

        “I don’t think that dogs try to please their owners as much as they figure out which behaviors they have to offer to make the things happen that they are after.”

        I have to chime in here with my own experience. Some dogs, like my beloved Ranger, are not interested in pleasing their people. Ranger couldn’t care less about whether what he’s doing makes me happy or not as long as what he’s doing gets him what he wants. Scaredy dog Finna, on the other hand, is happy to have made her people happy. She will work for praise alone (in a safe environment where she knows none of her triggers will appear) and while she’s still under threshold you can see her trying to please and to do what makes her people happy. So my experience is that some dogs do want to please. Where I get frustrated is with the myth that all dogs are the same and all dogs want to _____________ fill in the blank, please, dominate, eat raw food, go for car rides, whatever. Dogs are individuals just like people.

      • Debbie on

        When we have a good relationship with a dog our praise and happy behavior can be reinforcing. I also find that my fearful of people dogs who have discovered the joys of being with a person- food, play, scratches, learning- seem to be the most dramatically affected, in a positive way, by my ‘aren’t you the most wonderful dog on the planet’ silly behavior. Could just be coincidence but it’s interesting.

        Debbie Jacobs Fearfuldogs.com

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