The solution to both of these difficulties is putting emotion first.
Behaviour doesn’t happen for no reason, be that dog behaviour or human!
It is driven by emotion.
If your dog is feeling upset, scared, frustrated or confused, they will show those emotions in their behaviour (barking, not coming when called, pulling on leash, aggression and more)
If YOU are feeling upset, scared, frustrated or confused, equally you might not feel confident to stick to a training plan, or struggle to know where to focus, or how to translate training to real life, even if you’re working with a trainer.
That’s why sometimes we train and train and train and yet we aren’t seeing any progress.
If we instead focus on how everyone is FEELING, we can put a plan in place to help both dog and person to feel safe, listened to and confident and then the tricky behaviours may start to fade on their own, or we can put in place an ACHIEVABLE plan to help.
I’m Holly and I love chocolate buttons, late night movie re-runs and a morning cuddle with my pups (yes, I’m a dog pro and my dogs are welcome to sleep on my bed!).
It all started with my own wonderful dog, Riggs (more on that lovely boy below). Everything that he has taught me and that we continue to learn together, I have now passed on to 50,000 dog guardians and trainers all over the world!
Our focus here at Paws Up is about building safety and connection between dogs and their people and between people and their trainer. This means better dog-human communication and the ability to work through difficulties together.
As a dual trained clinical psychologist and clinical dog behaviourist I offer a unique way of achieving just that.
Yes, we are force-free, but we also work in a Trauma Informed Way, which means that we don’t ask “what’s wrong with this dog?” or “why is this person so difficult?” but instead “how are they feeling that is causing them to struggle in this way?”.
Often we think of “trauma” as a big scary event that has happened to a person or a dog. It can be this, but the truth is that MOST of us have experienced trauma of some sort in our lives. It’s not always obvious but it does impact how we feel and react to the world around us.
Being aware of this and understanding how to work with it, allows both dog and human to be more patient and compassionate with each other and to start making positive changes together.
We support our students in this way across the board, from puppies to older age dogs, rehomed dogs, agility students and more!
We also like to laugh around here because life can feel very heavy and serious sometimes and dogs have a wonderful way of helping us stay in the present moment and remind us how to be playful and silly sometimes! Come and listen to the podcast for an equal dose of behaviour advice and humour!
I’m lucky enough to share my life with these four very different and all very wonderful dogs. Four different ages, four different breeds, four different sizes and four different personalities!
Left to right we have Riggs, a Labrador/Staffie Cross. Half gun-dog, half terrier – a hunter! Head in the bush, sniffing! Staffies have a negative reputation in the media but he couldn’t do more to disprove this assumption. He is an incredibly loyal and loving companion, cuddle bug and my right hand man.
Aya is up next, a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, a livestock guardian breed. Many assume very different things based on her breed – that she is independent, “stubborn”, even “untrainable” according to some! In fact she is endlessly kind, intuitive and has positively impacted the lives of many as a therapy dog. She is an integral and much loved member of my family
Next we have the baby, Strudel, a Leonberger. Again, considered “strong willed” and “possibly aggressive to strangers”. Strudel could not be more of a social butterfly and would dearly love to sit on the lap of everyone she meets. Sweet natured and gooofy, she’s the perfect new addition!
Last but not least we have Squid, a border collie, a working breed. Many assume she runs 20 miles a day and needs constant stimulation. Oh yes, she can and does run, but she’s also beautifully calm in the house, emotionally intelligent and the best adventure buddy a human could have. Life wouldn’t be complete without my golden girl.
They are all VERY different, they all have genetic traits specific to their heritage. One thing in common…their connection with me…their human and guardian.
Connection goes deeper than breed, age and whether or not they are food motivated. It goes deeper than sit, down, stay and all those traditional “commands”.
It’s that joyful bond between a dog and their human..and THAT is what gets the kind of focus and desire to work with you that we all long for…and that is what our work is all about.
Riggs came to live with us at six months old and came from traumatic beginnings. He was struggling with some big emotions that he expressed in a few tricky behaviours for us, his caregivers. This included loud barking at noises and also directly at us, of an evening, when we were trying to relax.
He was terrified to be left alone, even in another room. He was frightened in new places and suspicious of new objects, new people and dogs. This translated to lunging and barking at other dogs and people, not just in public but at home when guests visited too. We understood he was feeling anxious but to others it just looked like we had an “out of control”, large, “aggressive” dog.
I felt a combination of worry for him, embarrassment and frustration for me and then subsequent guilt for feeling frustrated with him. It felt like an endless cycle and whatever we tried we remained stuck.
We tried training classes, an at home behaviourist, online courses and midnight googling but still nothing seemed to help him.
That was until…we stripped everything back and focused on his very fundamental needs. No more asking him to sit when he saw another dog because we thought that would get him “under control”, no more “uh-uh” or “no” or “leave it” (all of which just mask the problem instead of addressing the emotions the dog is feeling).
Instead we focused on helping him to feel safe, supported and confident in all areas of life. We organised his week into activities that harnessed his natural abilities and we made every, single, interaction with us about strengthening our connection together.
It’s now been many years since Riggs has shown any of the fear-based and aggressive behaviours he once did. He has zero separation anxiety and has been a demo dog supporting thousands of my students across the world.
He’s also a massive cuddle monster, super eager to please and my very best friend.
This is possible for you and your dog too, whether you are rehabilitating your current dog, rehoming an adult dog, or bringing up a new little puppy.