anxious dog

Is it possible for a dog to be reactive to the unexpected?

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I had a great question recently:

“Is it possible for a dog to be reactive to quiet and ‘the unexpected’?”

The person who posed this question was puzzled that their dog seemed able to cope with busy or noisy situations, but would react violently to any sight or sound when the environment was otherwise empty or quiet. The owner was worried that his dog may be unusual or wrong in some way.

As I answered, it became clear that quite a few owners of reactive dogs are puzzled by this. So I’m giving you my answer as it may answer a question that you have too!

 

This is a good question! It baffles and misleads a lot of people.  

Picture this: you are visiting your local shops. It’s afternoon, the shops are busy, there are mothers with pushchairs, delivery vans, people with shopping bags, boys on bikes … How do you feel?

Absolutely fine and comfortable, I’d bet.

Now imagine you go there at 1 in the morning. The place is deserted. You hear footsteps getting louder, and peering into the gloom you can just make out a figure heading towards you. How do you feel?

Most of us would be on high alert at the very least, possibly really alarmed.

The same man ambling through the crowds in the afternoon probably wouldn’t have bothered you at all.

There is a technical name for this - it’s SEC or Sudden Environmental Change.

Dogs are designed to spot things which are different, things which shouldn’t be there. They can single out something amiss and focus intently on it. This is one reason why they have earned their place in our homes down the ages. They are alarm sensors!

So your dog is behaving absolutely normally.

 

Want to learn more? Check out this free email course that will give you lots of Aha moments about your reactive, aggressive, anxious - Growly - dog!

     

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Sudden Environmental Change? Wha’?

There is a reason so many of our working dogs are so useful in their work. Take German Shepherds for instance, who can spot an intruder or an escaping criminal in a split-second, and take action.

Border Collies, those wonderful sheep-herders, can instantly spot a ewe whose ear is twitching in the wrong direction, indicating that she’s about to break and take the flock with her. The Collie can get round in an instant to block the ewe and make sure she keeps going in the right direction.

In the image at the top of the page, young Coco Poodle just has to check out this strange sign in an otherwise green and empty landscape.

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Sighthounds can spot the tiniest movement in a still place at a huge distance. Something moving in the landscape could well be dinner!

Dogs searching for evidence may not have a specific scent or object in mind - they’re just looking for something that shouldn’t be there.

And this is why your dog may react dramatically to the doorbell, or a car door slamming outside your home.

WHO IS THIS?

WHAT ARE THEY DOING HERE?

ARE WE UNDER THREAT?

For this ability alone, dogs have earnt their place by our fireplaces for so many thousands of years - it’s about 30,000 years, in fact.

Dogs’ gifts

The fact is that the hearing and sight capabilities of the dog so far outweigh our own. When it comes to their noses, they are unparalleled, and are the reason dogs are an important tool for the police, and in airports and ports worldwide. They’re far quicker at discovering evidence and identifying contraband than much of the sophisticated machinery also in use!

Is it possible for a dog to be reactive to quiet?

Window barking and fence running

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I can’t tell you how many owners of reactive dogs tell me their dog is a nightmare because he barks all day at the window.

“He barks at the window at everything he sees”

“He looks out of the window all day, if anyone comes past he barks and barks.”

“He spends his days attacking my front window as people pass by”

Or races up and down the garden barking at anything the other side of the fence.

He also fence fights with our neighbour’s dogs when they are out so that is a daily challenge”

“The biggest issue is that whenever our neighbours walk past our garden fence she goes on the defensive, jumping up the fence to try and get to them”

He will run the fence if allowed”

There are two problems here

1. The dog is driving the owner mad, so there’s disharmony in the house, frustration from both owner and dog, maybe wrecked furniture or lawn, worry about what the neighbours think.

and

2. The dog is continually wound up like a coiled spring. He’s getting no rest, and his cortisol levels (that’s the fight or flight thing) are continually elevated.

 

We all know how an overtired toddler is impossible to manage. Dogs are the exact same. This dog who spends his days on guard duty at the window, straining for any movement he can see, then leaping about scrabbling and barking at the window, is getting no rest. He’s getting tenser and tenser.

By the time you set out on your walk with him he’s already on his toes, on full alert! There’s little chance of escaping your outing without some kind of incident - barking and lunging at anything that moves, and going nuts on sight of a dog, or a bicycle, or whatever upsets your dog.

The dog who heads out to the garden for a quiet sniff about is not going to get that if he’s hurtling up and down the fence screaming at anything the other side.

I’d go so far as to say that you are going to have little impact on changing your walks to calm, quiet, and enjoyable, if you don’t first fix these problems at home.

So how on earth can I stop it?

Like most problems, it’s always best to prevent it even starting. But that’s with 20/20 hindsight! If you’ve already got this as an established problem, it’s no help to you to say don’t let it start!

But you can mostly certainly change it. For good.

Let’s start with the windows

You need to prevent your dog’s access to the windows that are causing the problem. Probably the front windows. So first stop is not to let him in that room unless you are with him to manage the situation. If you’ve got a tiny home, or an open-plan one, you may find baby gates help (baby gates are most definitely the dog-owner’s friend!).

Or move to Plan B. Which is to use window film! This wonderful invention will still allow light into your home, but present a fuzzy image to your dog. He can only see something really close up to the window, not out on the street. You can get all sorts of designs, and it’s really easy to apply - and just to whip off when you want (you won’t want: you’ll be so pleased with the calm it brings you’ll never want to take it off!).

And you don’t need to cover the whole window. Just the part your dog can see out of.

You may need to move your furniture about a bit, so he doesn’t have a handy perch!

So window-barking is now eliminated! Hooray. You’ll wonder how you ever stood it before. And you will see a distinct difference in your dog who is now getting something approaching the 17 hours (yes, seventeen hours) of sleep he should have every day for optimum health and lowered stress.

“But I don’t want to cover my windows!” Then unless you can keep your dog away from them another way, you will continue this mad barking and over-stimulation, which will prevent you making the important changes in your reactive dog’s behaviour out of doors! Your choice …

So what about fence-running?

Putting film on your fence is not going to work!

If you can, talk to your neighbours and arrange things so that you are all not driven mad. See what this resourceful student does to prevent these senseless and energy-sapping battles at the fence:

“My neighbour and I text each other for the all clear before letting them out!”

Those of you without such amenable and sensible neighbours will have to manage it all by yourself. Careful observation of your neighbour’s timetable will help.

 But in any case, you will always be out in the garden with your dog!

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If necessary, you could have her on lead. It’s essential to teach your dog a new way of being in the garden. You’ll find simple counterconditioning very helpful. You just post treats into your dog’s mouth whenever there’s something over the fence that worries her. This way you’ll change her emotional response to the frightening thing.

You may have to start this from inside the house! Wherever your dog is calm enough to take treats will get you started.  

No more barking and screaming!

These problems are very simply solved. Note I didn’t say “easily”. It takes application and observation. But the solutions are simple and straightforward.

All it needs is a little effort on your part, and the deafening noises, frantic behaviour, and over-arousal, will all be a thing of the past.

Come and see what else the thousands of folk are learning at this week’s free online Workshop!

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My dog is busybusy all day long and never stops!

Help! My dog is busybusy all day long. How can I get him to calm down? | FREE BOOK! | #newpuppy, #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #doghealth, #dogbehavior, #dogsleep, #overexciteddog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

You may enjoy your dog keeping you company all day - but if your lifestyle is very active and busy you’re actually not helping him! Like toddlers, dogs need to have naps and calm periods built into their day. They are crepuscular beasties - which means they are most alert at twilight, their ancestral hunting time.

And just like toddlers, not getting these vital rest periods will result in disturbed behaviour. For your dog this means that he’s much shorter-tempered, easily agitated, hard to reason with.

This is making your life much harder than necessary! And if you are blessed with a Growly Dog who is already disposed to reactivity, fear, anxiety, or aggression, you can 10x that!

Plenty of ideas in this free 8-lesson email course for calming down your life with your dog!

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And as we know that stress is the silent killer for humans, so it can be for dogs, predisposing them to ailments that they are unable to resist.

I wrote about sleep and puppy-biting a while ago. And I’m revisiting this subject because it is SOOOO important, and so seldom understood!

So how can you curb your frantic dog’s activity and improve life for both of you?

Bedtimes

The first thing to do is establish sleeping areas in the home where your dog can sleep without being disturbed. So rather than letting your puppy crash where he runs out of steam, always transfer him to his crate or bed. Build these sleep-places into your day from the start.

Protected sleep times are also important to build in from Day 1. My dogs are all adult, and as I write they are all in or on various beds near me. They sleep while I work (lucky them!). This pattern of “when nothing’s happening you need to sleep” is carefully baked in from the day the puppy arrives with me.

A puppy who’s been awake for more than an hour or so needs to go to bed!

But you can still teach an older dog this way of life, even if there are established patterns of lunacy!

Teaching an older dog to rest

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Here’s an extract from my book series Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog which you can find here. I’m repeating it here because it illustrates so well how quickly you can influence some of your dog’s behaviours when you approach it the right way.

“I was visiting a very caring couple who had brought their young rescue collie Tim to classes when they first got him. I was glad they’d got in touch again, because the young dog was very fearful and couldn’t cope well with life. We arranged a visit.

While there, it became clear that this hyperactive dog was wearing himself out. For the first twenty minutes of my visit he never stopped. He raced in and out of the room, jumped up my front, my back, chewed my hair, poked the other dog, ran off again, paced … never rested.

So I quickly amended my training plan to include some relaxation work. After some active games to get Tim to engage with me, I started teaching him to slow down and relax. After just five minutes of this, his owner expressed amazement at seeing her frantic dog actually lying down still for more than ten seconds at a time!

When I finished the short session and released him, what did he do? Do you think he went straight back into busybusy mode, panting and racing?

Nope. He just slid onto the floor beside us, and as he lay there his head started to loll, his eyelids drooped, and he was … asleep!

To the total astonishment of his owner, who had never seen him sleep in the day!

So how much sleep should Tim be having?

Did you know that dogs need to have an average seventeen hours of sleep a day to work at their optimum level with the least amount of stress?

Seventeen hours.

I can hear you all saying, “My dog never sleeps that much.”

Well, it’s seventeen hours for adult dogs - obviously more for puppies. And some dogs need to be helped to achieve this total.

Tim had had a poor start in life before his present owners took him in and gave him a secure and loving home. So he’d developed habits of nervous and stressy behaviour which had stuck with him. Showing him how to relax transformed him in just a few short minutes and allowed him to get some much-needed rest.

His owners are carrying on this work with him, and it will make all the other things we have to teach him so much easier.”

Calm

Want to know what I did to relax this hyper dog? To get the exact program, work through the first book in the Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog series: Calm Down! Step-by-Step to a Calm, Relaxed, and Brilliant Family Dog It’s free at all e-book stores, and also available in paperback online and you can order it from any good bookshop. Quite apart from the usefulness of this skill for any dog, anywhere, if you have a reactive dog it will hugely benefit him.

Be aware that teaching calm and relaxation is not teaching a stay exercise with the traditional stern shouting and finger-waving! (Although, curiously, you will get a solid stay as a result.)

The object is quite different - to change your dog’s mental state, not to anchor his physical position.

Learning how to switch off can also help with Separation Anxiety. If this is an area of distress for your dog, you could do with going through a whole protocol to make positive changes. This book by Patricia McConnell has a step-by-step program. It’s not an overnight fix, and few people in my experience can be bothered to resolve this issue for their poor dog - unless he’s destroying the house and defecating all over the carpet. But think how much happier you’ll all be if instead of agitated pacing when you’re out, you just get peaceful snoozing.

I’ll also mention the Relaxation Protocol. (These audios have been generously provided by Roxanne Hawn and are free to download.) This is a program which takes incremental steps from frantic non-resting dog to chilled-out dog with a lower heart-rate and dreamy feelings of comfort and relaxation.

It’s a simple program: you don’t have to do Day 1 only on Day 1 - repeat each “Day” till you have it right, then move on to the next “Day”. I choose to have the dog lying down for this - more conducive to dozing. It takes time, yes, but it’s time well spent helping your dog destress. You’ll feel as if you’ve had a relaxation session yourself when it’s over!

It’s worth getting started on it to help your dog access the calm side of his mind, which he may have lost sight of in his anxiety. Again, few people in my experience follow through on this and complete the cycle in several different places. But those who do get MASSIVE improvement! It’s especially useful for the never-resting dog, the hyper dog, the anxious or fearful dog, your Growly Dog.

For plenty more tips on getting the best out of your relationship with your dog, get this free 8-part email course

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Do you make this mistake with your dog?

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I was sitting in a cafe with Coco Poodle lying beside me on his mat, calmly watching the other visitors, with a chew to engage him too. 

I’d chosen a quiet place out of the way of foot traffic. He couldn’t get trodden on, and I know that he also enjoys being able to see out of the big windows.

Got an anxious, fearful dog? Check out the free 5 Day Workshop here! 

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At a table right in the middle of this cafe, a woman was reprimanding her small dog. He clearly felt uneasy with all the activity around him - people walking this way and that, almost treading on him - and was seeking security by trying to get onto her lap. 

“Get off!” “Down!” “No!” “Get down!!” she kept saying.

This did nothing to allay her dog’s anxiety, and her attention was simply fuelling his desire to climb up. 

Eventually he gave up. He was defeated and alone. He looked around him - worried - and sat.

And what did his owner say to this?

Absolutely nothing.

 

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Consider your dog's comfort too

I thought it very sad that she had no thought of why her dog was trying to jump on her. She was only concerned about what people may think. Her barrage of commands was a knee-jerk reaction to the dog’s paws on her lap. 

She then compounded her error by nagging the dog repeatedly - and when he eventually complied (more by luck than by judgment!) she ignored him.

I’ve no doubt that this lady’s a kind and friendly person who thought she was doing the right thing to get her dog to behave in public. But unfortunately many people have no idea how to achieve this except by using bossy methods.

Sadly she’d got it quite the wrong way round!

What you focus on is what you get.

Drawing attention to what she didn't want was making it more likely that that was what she was going to keep getting!

So what would have worked better?

*If she had responded to his fears and need for reassurance he would have settled sooner.

• If she had ignored his clambering attempts then responded to him warmly when he stopped she’d have had far greater success at keeping his feet on the floor. 

• And if she had realised that the middle of the cafe was not the best place for her nervous little dog and chosen a better place to sit,

• given him a mat or blanket or her coat to lie on,

• dished out treats freely for him being quiet and calm, 

• responded by reassuring him that the floor was a safe place to be,

• and had come prepared with a foodtoy or chew for him to focus on, 

it would have been better again.

 

It’s a very small change - just a switch from being reactive to being proactive.

 

But it will change your dog’s state of mind in an instant.

 

Lots more ways to become proactive and stop nagging your dog in our free 8-part email course!

Get your free email course to sort out lots of puppy problems

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Where are my spoons? Why your dog runs out of calmness

How does heat affect your dog? We all know not to leave a dog in a car - but have you thought how the heat can affect his psyche? Read this post for some eye-openers! | FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #anxiousdog #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #heatindogs, #cooldog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

It’s a puzzle to so many people. Their dog is easygoing and tranquil, and out of nowhere he snarks at another dog - or snaps at a child - or even growls at you! 

Maybe your dog is not so easygoing and you have just learned to live with these “random” outbursts. You never know when he’s going to be in a good humour, and when he’s going to have a meltdown.

But you CAN know! 

If you’re aware of what’s using up your dog’s patience stores, you’ll be able to manage him so that he doesn’t run out entirely, and be left with no way to go except have an outburst.

What you need to learn about is known as Trigger Stacking. And at the moment we have a huge extra trigger that many people simply aren’t aware of.

Heatwave!

In the UK at the moment we are enjoying (or suffering!) extreme weather. Weeks of temperatures in the high 70s and 80s (that's the high 20s in new money) - we’re not used to it at all!

So spare a thought for your dog, who has to wear his full fur coat regardless of the weather. 

You doubtless know all the commonsense advice for dogs and hot weather: 

• Ensure plenty of fresh water is available

• Brush out the winter coat as far as possible, and trim and shear hairy beasties

• Cut back on walks - maybe none at all for a few days, and certainly only at the cool ends of the day

There’s more to keeping your dog cool in the summer than his physical comfort. It can also help with dog anxiety and general dog behavior. Read this post for some eye-openers! | FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #anxiousdog #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #heatindogs, #cooldog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

• Limit access to the garden UNLESS you have a paddling pool to entertain your dog, or unless he has enough sense to find a shady spot and stay there

• Check temperature of the ground with your hand. Have you seen people doing the hoppy dance on a hot beach when they have no shoes on? 

• Don’t leave your dog in a car, even with the windows open, without taking measures to keep it cool. This will include covering all the windows, ensuring a through draught, running an aircon, and - of course - parking in the shade.

• Consider a cooling mat for a double-coated breed, or a cooling shirt. A wet t-shirt will work well too, but you need to keep wetting it.

• Frozen food-toys may be popular

• Observe speed of panting and shape of tongue - a long spoon-shaped tongue means your dog is working hard to get rid of heat 

 

Heatstroke in dogs can be quick, and deadly. So please take the precautions above to ensure your dog is protected.

Hothead

But you also need to consider how this heat is impacting his mental state.

I’d like you to take a quick detour and bone up on Spoon Theory. This explains so well how limited stores of energy have to be farmed and managed carefully. The same applies for our dogs with their limited store of tolerance. 

Before you even step out of the door on a hot day, your dog is stressed. He’s already used up a boatload of spoons and may be running critically low. This could apply to the calmer dog as well as the “reactive” or growly dog.

You know how quickly you can get annoyed when you're uncomfortable - especially if you're not used to the heat? Think of airport rows and road rage in hot traffic jams.

There’s more to keeping your dog cool in the summer than his physical comfort. It can also help with dog anxiety and general dog behavior. Read this post for some eye-openers! | FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #anxiousdog #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #heatindogs, #cooldog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Lots of people will be out and about in holiday mode, with dogs who are only walked on high days and holydays, and everyone will be hot and bothered.

So seek out quieter walks, shaded walks - if you can find a place for your dog to swim, so much the better! - and cut out the ball-throwing till the worst of this heat is over. It will be over soon enough, and all us Britishers can go back to talking about the weather in disparaging terms! 

And if you live in a permanently hot place, you’ll have worked out your own ways of keeping your home cool, and strategies to get about outside without boiling. A reader from Texas told me that she can only take her dog out for 20’ at 5 am - after that it’s into the hundreds and impossible. 

 

Triggers, and spoons

Armed with this knowledge, you can now look at your dog in a different way. Hopefully a more understanding and tolerant way. He’s not being difficult - he’s struggling in circumstances he finds hard at the best of times, and may now be finding impossible.

In the greater scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if your dog doesn’t go for a walk for several days - or even weeks. And contrary to what you may be thinking, you may be surprised to find that your normally hyper dog in fact gets calmer and more manageable, the less he’s walked!

Help him by managing his day carefully when outside influences are making it harder for him. He’s relying on you! 

 

 

 

Want to know more about keeping walks calm and pleasant? Whether your dog is “growly” or just a bit anxious on walks, you’ll find a lot to help you in this Free 5 Day Workshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How training your dog can help you train people

How can you protect your dog from well-meaning people who want to pet him? Here are some easy dog training techniques to kindly control your dog and train your visitor! FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #shydog, #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Some people are good at greeting dogs. And some are … not. It’s not a skill we’re born with (think how long it takes to teach children how to greet people politely!), so we have to teach those who approach us how to greet our dog - or, indeed, whether they may greet her at all!

If your dog is like Greta Garbo, who famously said, “I want to be left alone,” then no greeting is required. This is where you’ll have to use your dog training skills to prevent a quick lunge from the visitor, now wailing “But dogs like me!” as they jump back alarmed from a snap.

You may have dogs who lurve people and want to jump all over them. Yapping NO at your dog, flapping your hands and yanking the lead is not going to cut it. You need to teach your ebullient dog how to greet strangers - and for this you need the stranger’s co-operation!

So how can you get the people you meet to comply?

You can use the same mantra we use for our dogs - 

Reward what you like
Ignore what you don’t like
Manage what can’t be ignored

This means that if your visitor does what you ask, they earn the reward of greeting your dog. If they do inappropriate things (in your dog’s eyes) then you ignore their efforts as you focus on directing them to what you do want, and manage the situation so they can’t interfere with your dog.

Let’s have a closer look at this.


The shy, anxious, or fearful dog

Evasion skills for your shy or worried dog

How can you protect your dog from well-meaning people who want to pet him? Here are some easy dog training techniques to kindly control your dog and train your visitor! FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #shydog, #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior | www.brilliantfamilydog.com
  • Carwash - teach your dog to run behind you and appear peekaboo-style between your legs. Few strangers will grope between your legs to get at your dog

  • Get behind - lurking behind your legs may work better for very large or very shy dogs

  • Down - can get them out of arm’s reach of invasion

  • Muzzle - If your dog has a tendency to lunge and snap, teach her to be happy in her muzzle. This will relax you as you’re not worried about damage, and does tend to keep people away. They think this dog is dangerous - in fact she’s safer than an unmuzzled dog

 

Where you can help

  • Get between your dog and the kindly visitor intent on grabbing her

  • Use your body to block the path to your dog, and keep moving as necessary to stay in the way

  • Asking the would-be greeter questions and taking control of the meeting, will distract them from their “Hello doggy” plans

  • Maybe just keep walking! With a quick “Morning!” as you pass

  • Or use the tried and tested policeman STOP hand signal. This is immensely effective at stopping people in their tracks, giving you time to arrange your dog where you want her, and allowing you to compose a suitable sentence to keep the person at a comfortable distance. You don't have to make excuses for your dog. Just think of a quick way of getting the person to do what you want. Practice this at home with a friend, so you feel brave enough to do it!

  • Talk to your dog quietly and politely - this may impress your would-be greeter that you don’t have to yell and grab this particular dog

 

The over-exuberant dog

If a meeting is appropriate, give clear instructions on how to greet your dog. You’ll train your dog how to do his part, using friends to help you. This means he’ll know this “game” when you want to use it in the wild.

Bouncy Goldie pup Alfie shows how to greet people

Greeting skills for a bouncy dog

  • Hand touch (your hand to start with)

  • Release cue (“Go say hi”, only when dog is sitting and calm)

  • Timing of reward (when he’s turned back to you)

 

Your clear instructions should be brief and simple. For instance, “just hold your hand down by your side so he can sniff it”. This tends to stop people leaning over your dog and grabbing or patting, ruffling or thumping. It also stops your dog leaping up to nose-dot them as they can inspect their hand instead.

By the time your dog has sniffed the hand to gain all the information he needs about the person, he’s already back with you for his treat. Job done.

Crowd control

Unless you know for a fact that the person wanting to chat to you and your dog will listen to you, follow your instructions, and understand what you’re doing - don’t let them near enough to cause trouble.

All this work you’ve put in to understanding how your dog’s mind works and how to get the best from her? It’s just the same with people! You can take a quick overview of the situation, remember my mantra above, make rapid decisions about whether a greeting should or should not happen, and take control of the meeting.

This way you won’t be caught out by those who think they know more about your dog than you do, and avoid the embarrassment of muddy pawmarks on the person’s clothes … or worse.

Remember if your dog thinks she has to defend herself against this invasive person, she’ll be more alarmed about the next person you pass, and may even consider a pre-emptive strike (leap out and snap) to keep them away.

 


For more ideas about how to have peaceful and uneventful walks, join the FREE 5 Day Video Workshop for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog