By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
We would do anything for our dogs. I know that about all of you, as well as I know that about myself. I have sat with some of you while you cried over your dog’s fears. I have seen the stress you carry. I wanted to take a minute today to talk about that stress.
When we talk about your dog and their fears/concerns/stressors, we talk about setting your dog up for success. This means keeping your dog at a distance from the trigger that your dog can be comfortable and implementing counter-conditioning and training to change their association with the trigger. We talk about reading your dog’s body language so we can recognize signs of stress. We also implement more mental exercise to enrich your dog’s life.
One part that we don’t talk about enough is taking care of yourself. The same things that your dog needs, you need as well! If you are overwhelmed and stressed, it is hard to help your dog.
What can we do to set ourselves up for success? Here are a few ideas:
1. Before you leave the house with your dog have a plan ready in case a loose dog runs up, a person leans over, a bike goes by, etc.
For example: when I walk my dog-reactive dog, I always have lots of yummy treats on me for training (or they can be thrown into the path of a loose dog running up to us). I also have a can of compressed air in my pouch in case we encounter a loose dog. This non-toxic deterrent is only to be used if a loose dog ran up to us and didn’t go for the treats I would throw. Just having it makes me feel more confident on my walk.
2. Make training fun!
Instead of putting your dog through the paces because you feel like you have to, make it fun! For example: play a few rounds of the engage-disengage game and then toss a ball, play tug or dance with your dog. Work on Go to Mat and then have a cuddle session on the couch. Training should be fun and if it isn’t, we need to re-examine what we are doing.
3. Don’t force yourself to train.
If you are having a bad or stressful day, don’t force yourself to train. This is the day we fall back on management strategies to keep our dogs safe and under-threshold. For example: If you are having a bad day and not in the mood to train, you may not want to stand back at a distance your dog can see a person and play the engage-disengage game. Instead, when you see the person you would head in the other direction and avoid the situation. This isn’t teaching your dog how to accept people, but it is preventing them from reacting. It’s okay if we have days like this.
4. Take breaks.
If you are feeling stressed by your dog, take a break. Go for a walk by yourself or do something you like (read, play a game, watch a show) in another room. Don’t feel guilty for doing this! If you need a break, you should take it so you don’t feel resentful.
5. Give your dog (and yourself) some grace.
Whatever your dog is going through, they are having big feelings. You are too. Dogs and humans are emotional beings and some of the emotions are hard. Give yourself and your dog grace to feel those emotions.