There are moments that can turn into days, weeks, or months of continual frustration with your dog’s behavior. Maybe you dread taking your dog on a walk because of his constant barking at everyone and everything. Or, perhaps getting yanked around by your dog while circling the block has zero enjoyment for you. Do you try to slide out the door, using your foot has a body blocker to keep your dog from escaping? Are you plagued by paranoia whenever you leave your dog at home alone because the constant chaos and barking are sure to produce either a noise ordinance violation, a call from your landlord, or a “friendly” knock on the door later from your neighbor?
Day after day, the dread of these experiences grows; and while you may not even recognize it, your stress level does too. These moments are not consistent with the happy dreams of bringing a cute, new, furry friend into your life. Never fear! We are here to shed some sunshine on these gloomy days! That warm ray is called “Emotional Stability.”
If you push back your frustration, embarrassment, fears and uncertainties, and just watch your dog in the moments described above, you will recognize an inability for your dog to maintain emotional balance. So what does emotional stability mean or look like in a dog? Think of it like a volcano. As emotional tension elevates in your dog, an eruption eventually occurs. The speed at which this pressure builds to a breaking point depends on the intensity of your dog’s feelings about the stimulation in the environment and the length of time they have been practicing the bad behavior.
Much like humans, dogs develop habits that become second-nature and are triggered on without the dog even thinking about how they should respond. Most trainers will look for results on the surface and deploy their best obedience training to correct, control and ultimately make you feel better when your dog listens to your commands. BUT, there is a major flaw in this approach. Based on what we just learned about a dog’s emotional stability, (the true science behind why your dog is acting this way) simple obedience training is more like putting a band-aid on a deep wound.
In these extreme moments of emotional eruption, do you really think your dog has the ability to listen to you? Certainly not! So now what? More pressure! You raise your voice or change the tone to be more dominant, or you pull harder on the leash to get better control of the dog. Louder and harder only adds more pressure to the erupting volcano. These control tactics, along with your own emotions that are now engaged, and are adding to the conflict that already exists. In short, you’ve now modeled the same erupting behavior of your dog and validated their inappropriate response.
There must be a better way… right? Fortunately, there is an opportunity for both you and your dog to learn deeper levels of emotional stability that, in turn, help you to advocate for your dog. Being a pack leader doesn’t mean dominance and control. Your leadership is defined by trust and confidence.
Here are 3 tips to focusing on your dog’s emotional state:
1. Use high-value food to influence emotional training. Just like humans, good food makes us feel better. Using food in training helps facilitate emotional stability for your dog and supports them in becoming more calm and making better choices.
2. Always start training in the house, in a low-distraction environment. Setting your dog up for success at a level in which they can learn is critical. Think about the three key factors to success—Distraction/challenge level, Distance, or how close your dog is to the distraction, and Duration, meaning how long does your dog need to engage in a positive behavior before you offer a reward. In the early stages of learning, rewarding at short durations will guide the dog to choices you desire. So, it’s your job to adjust these 3-Ds to achieve positive results.
3. Create developmental steps in your training experience. If your dog reacts to other dogs while on leash, don’t start working on this issue outdoors with other dogs present. Scale back the teaching environment so your dog can begin learning to be more calm and less connected to stimulation like a bowl of food or a favorite toy (distraction options). With your dog on leash, move the dog away from the stimulation (more distance) a couple of feet and reward with high-value food every time he successfully distances himself. In the beginning reward frequently, then delay rewarding over time as the dog excels at the disconnection skill (duration).
At Full House Dog Training, we focus on creating peace of mind for you… your dog’s #1 friend and supporter! Backed by canine science that pushes beyond surface issues to the core of changing behavior, our program isolates the emotional experiences that are creating eruptions in your dog and provides a step-by-step plan of action. No more searching the internet for videos that leave you feeling even more frustrated when your dog doesn’t respond as described and no reason to jump from trainer to trainer. Let us help you find the solutions you dream of, with proper coaching and side-by-side support to get you through the rough patches.
We want you to be excited about spending time with your dog. Whether during training or just a casually strolling down the street, let us help you find true joy with your furry best pal!