We love our dogs, they’re our playmates, our confidants, our fur kids. Whether we’ve had them since puppies or adopted them as adults we’ve tried our best to train them, bring them up in the right way and ultimately make them happy.
If any of this rings true for you then congratulations…you are owned by a dog! And I don’t know about you but I think that’s a great position to be in!
Just like people, dogs sometimes find certain situations worrying or scary. It might be when the hoover comes on, when someone tries to take their ball or when they see a stranger appear during a walk. It might be on fireworks night, when left alone at home, or maybe they love 99% of dogs they meet except that one that looks no different to you, but is terrifying to your dog.
This is all so, so normal. Again, just like us, dogs experience a range of emotions such as joy and excitement but also more negative emotions like anxiety and fear and these can manifest in a load of different ways. Have you got a barker? A lunger? A hide-behind-the-legser, A shaker? A spinner? A yawner? A chewer? A biter? A lip-licker? A freezer (not the fridge type)? Maybe you just have a dog that shakes it off and carries on, seemingly unscathed?
Perhaps you even have that super dog that seems totally chilled in all situations and has been for years. Even that dog might one day jump at a loud noise, for example. It’s all totally normal.
So what can we do to help our dogs?
If you are able to identify when your dog is feeling a bit worried then YOU become the BEST POSSIBLE OWNER for your dog and you can take steps to help them out. Depending on the severity of your dog’s fears you might need some help from your vet and trainer or behaviourist who can help you to counter-condition your pup but in the meantime there are steps you can take to support them. Check out our post on how to get a calm dog, which is a great first step and then start to manage their environment>>>>>>
Social convention tells us that we should always take what the vet says as gospel despite our misgivings, follow the trainer’s techniques even if they seem a bit unkind, let another dog approach ours because the other owner tells us “let yours off, he just wants to play!”. Again YOU are the BEST POSSIBLE OWNER for your dog and YOU know your dog’s limits and what they may or may not enjoy.
So here are some examples:
IN THE PARK
You’re having a walk and you can see a little, fluffy dog heading your way. Your dog doesn’t like little fluffy dogs. You shout across to the owner to call their dog but they tell you “he’s friendly, he just wants to play”.
Be your dog’s advocate: Either turn and walk in another direction or say “I’d love for them to play but my dog is scared. Please call your dog away”
WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS
You’re off for a pub lunch with family and friends and everyone wants you to bring your pup so they can play with him.
Be your dog’s advocate: You know your pup is nervous in the pub and finds it hard to settle. You’ll probably be out a few hours at least. Say: “I’m sorry, my dog would find that too stressful”. Leave your dog at home.
WHEN CHOOSING A TRAINER OR DOG SPORTS INSTRUCTOR
The website says they only train using positive methods
Be you dog’s advocate: Get in contact before signing up and ask for clarification on what they mean by “positive training”. Does it focus on the relationship between you and your dog, using positive reward for good choices and looking for alternatives to undesired behavior? Or does it use rewards for good choices and punishment for bad ones? Ask for examples of how the trainer might deal with specific struggles you might have such as counter surfing or pulling on the lead.
Dogs might not be able to communicate with us in English, or French, or Swedish but they can tell us a lot with their bodies, their doggie verbals and of course their behaviour. We have a responsibility to learn when they aren’t feeling comfortable and use our voices to stand up for them. This way we can minimise their bad experiences, maximise their great experiences and create an awesome doggie-human bond!
Click here for your FREE cheat sheet with tips on how to stand up for your dog and support them when they are in a situation that makes them feel worried.
Next week: How to spot when your dog is feeling anxious or frightened by reading their body language.