This post was first published on positively.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Those of us who have a reactive, anxious, or fearful dog, work very hard to make life easier for them (and us!).
We try this idea and that technique, perhaps with distressingly little success. Some days our dog just seems worse!
Here is the first of three articles based on excerpts from my next book - out soon! - Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog, Book 1 Why is my dog so growly? - which points out an area which will be affecting your dog mightily.
While you’re doing your best to improve the situation and you take a look at what may be making things worse, you cannot overlook stress.
- Stress causes reactions to be exaggerated
- Stress causes us to snap
- Stress wears us out
And there are some areas of your dog’s life that are building stress that will really surprise you.
1. Too many walks
“What!” you squawk! “I thought I had to take my dog out for a walk every single day! I thought I was doing the right thing!”
Well, like so much in life, that depends. It depends on how your dog is experiencing these walks.
A happy-go-lucky dog who loves meeting people and other dogs will relish his daily walks. But that’s not the dog you have, or you wouldn’t be reading this.
It may be that your dog gets sick with anxiety at the very thought of a walk. The walk may consist of you getting upset or telling him off while he runs the gauntlet of narrow paths, fence-running dogs, squealing children, dog walkers walking their dog straight towards him, traffic noises, people wanting to pat his head …
This is not an enjoyable walk for an anxious, shy, or reactive dog!
There are two reasons for walking your dog. One is for exercise. The other is for socialisation. Clearly the second reason here is a fail. So cut your losses, exercise your dog with vigorous play in the garden or on solo walks in a relatively dog-free zone - a forest trail, for instance - and save road walks for when your dog is calm and you can avoid most of the hazards.
There are great games you can play with your dog to exercise him - without ever having to leave your home. Free running and jumping about till your dog’s sides are heaving, his tongue lolling, and his eyes shining, are what you want for exercise.
If you have outside space you can play with balls or frisbees, reinforcing the connection between you all the while. Tug is a game that uses a load of energy - and you can really go to town on harnessing your dog’s instinctive drives by playing with a flirt-pole.
The joy of these games is that you can use them to build your dog’s impulse control at the same time. He’ll learn never to jump up or snatch the toy from your hand in Tug. And the flirt-pole teaches the collection and restraint needed for a successful bunny-hunt.
And no, it won’t turn your dog into a predatory nightmare. I used the flirt-pole to build Cricket the Whippet’s impulse control around small furry things, with the result that I can call her off rabbits. I have known dogs who were so full-on in their play that their owners had to wear thick gloves to play with them and stay in one piece! Once the dog learns the rules of the game, it becomes rewarding for both parties - and no more need for gloves.
If you have no outside space, you can rely on Tug to tire your dog out - especially as you’re getting him to use his brain in this puzzle too.
Using wobble cushions and planks will help to build muscles and balance that your dog didn’t know he had. Walking down the stairs, then walking up again backwards, step by step, is a skill which uses lots of brain and brawn.
Hide and Seek is always a popular, tiring, and satisfying, game, especially if you have children to join in. My boys used to love rolling themselves up in their duvets and waiting to be found - which didn’t take long with all the squealing going on!
Choose a good time for an outing
Once your dog is rested from having to face the daily challenge of a walk, you should see some calmness entering the picture.
Then when you feel ready, you can take him out. The aim of Puppy Socialisation is to expose your pup as much as possible to all the experiences of our world - while the puppy enjoys the experience. The same goes for your older dog. Taking him places where he is scared or uncomfortable is just tormenting him without any good resulting: in fact this could make him more fearful.
So find a quiet time when you can take your dog out for a walk, and be flexible with your plans! You can turn away from anything your dog finds upsetting.
The garbage truck is collecting and making a huge noise? Just turn and go the other way. There’s a school outing of excited children heading towards you? Go! Heavy rain is making the traffic very noisy? Head home.
Resist the temptation to say “I always go this way,” and go right, then left, through the street market, across the railway bridge … Your walk can just be the same 100 yards in front of your house repeated several times!
As long as your dog is viewing this as a positive experience, then you are succeeding. Know that you can assess the benefit of the walk - to both of you - and give yourself permission to decide where to walk your dog, and whether to walk at all.
What is the result we want?
We’re focussing on the outcome here - calm walks with a happy and relaxed dog. If your daily walks are not a step in this direction, then you need to cut them right back.
Did you find this excerpt of interest? This is what Book 1 will look like.
Click here for a free e-course to help remove the stress from your life, and your dog’s life - and news about the new book!