14 Things to Do Instead of Being Frustrated with Your Dog
When I wrote about what you can do to help your reactive dog this holiday season, there was a question on Facebook that really stuck with me: how do we help pet parents relax? Living and working with a reactive dog can be stressful. Sometimes, when training is going rough or I’m trying to work through a particularly difficult walk, that frustration can build to the point where I feel I might just explode if I don’t do something.
But you know what that something should never, ever be? Yelling or hitting your dog. It’s a human reaction to vent your frustration towards its “cause” aka your dog’s reactions, but doing so will never help you or your dog overcome your training obstacles. Usually, it will only make things worse. Instead of letting boiling over, here are 14 ways to relieve and manage your own training frustrations.
Count to Ten
There a times when a dog's behavior feels like it goes from zero to bad in seconds, and it’s important not to let your own temper follow suit. This is my challenge on walks when we’re confronted with a dog that’s unleashed—Topher and I walk only in places where there are posted leash requirements, but those rules are constantly being broken. Not only is it dangerous and frustrating, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.
In these moments it’s critical that I don’t let my temper get the best of me, because my dog is going to associate that anger and negative energy with being introduced to stranger dogs. The solution? Rather than fume, I count as I remove my dog and I from the situation. I count to ten. I count to thirty. I count to one hundred if I have to. I count until we’re back in a safe space and I feel I can continue our walk without anger or pent-up frustration—at the stranger, their dog, or mine.
Take Deep Breaths
While we’re counting and moving ourselves into a safer place, I’m also taking deep breaths. A natural response to stress is to tense up, but if you want your dog to return to being relaxed, you’ve got to return to that relaxed state too! Breath deeply as you count, until you don’t feel like a rubber band that’s ready to snap. Sometimes I also take a moment to stretch or sit down.
Shift Your Focus
Letting go of those prior incidents or frustrations is just as important as physically relaxing. Choose not to stew on whatever failures have come your way, and instead find a new, positive focus. Think about how nice the weather is, or queue up a fun song on your phone to listen to, it’s up to you. Usually your dog has already bounced back to their happy selves after their trigger has been removed, so take a page out of their playbook and return to the now.
Learn Your Own Triggers
You may not think it’s true, but you have triggers just like a reactive dog. I get very tense when I see a loose dog, even when I am in control of the situation, or we’re separated by a fence. It’s something that takes me right back to when Topher and I were attacked, so I have to work hard not to let the sight of a loose dog send me straight into “flight” mode. Talk to your trainer about your own triggers, and how to work through those scenarios. Having a specific set of cues for you to follow reduces your own triggered reaction, in addition to helping you train your dog.
Identify What You Can Control
When out and about with a reactive dog, it can be easy to get angry at those things we have little control over. We can’t control who else is going to head to the park today, or how their dogs are feeling. We can’t control the volume of the trucks that may go by, or the squirrels that may dart in front of us. Yet, it’s easy to get bent out of shape by these occurrences because of the impact they have on us, but in the end, it's not worth it.
Instead of letting a lack of control over your environment work you up, try to prepare the actions you’ll take when these uncontrolled events occur: whether you’ll try passing another dog while walking, or how you might redirect your dog away from chasing a squirrel. When you take time to think about how you’ll react and train while you’re out and about, you’ll always be setting yourself up for a greater level of success.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
It’s often said that most dog training problems arise with the owner, not necessarily the dog. However, that doesn’t mean beating yourself up for every error or misstep. Be gentle with yourself; after all, you're learning new things too. It takes time.
Look At The Big Picture
This is a really great exercise for any of life’s little frustrations. When that latest outburst on a walk or a round of window barking is threatening to derail your good day, step back and think: will you remember this episode in a day? What about in a week, a month, or a year? In the grand scheme of things, the frustrations that are trying to ruin your day will be some of the easiest things to forget over time. Don’t waste any energy keeping those frustrated feelings around: let them roll off your back, like water off a duck.
Talk About It
What happens when you keep all that frustration locked in your own head? Usually: you stew about those issues until you finally snap. If possible, talk to a professional trainer about the problems you’re having with your dog, and look for productive solutions that can help you move forward. However, if you can’t talk to a professional, at the very least vent to a friend. Your dog won’t find out, I promise.
Count The Positives
While there are some moments, minutes, or even hours with your dog that can be hard and frustrating, there are probably way more moments with your dog that are positive, happy, and even carefree. Live in the happy moments, acknowledging and savoring them. Studies have actually shown that being present in the moment contributes to your enjoyment of that moment!
Manage Your Expectations
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t magically cure an anxious, reactive, or otherwise sensitive dog in 24 hours either. Usually, working with these animals is a long term decision, and takes a lot of positive reinforcement along the way. Understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and set your goals and expectations accordingly.
Create Your Own Victories
While you’re on that marathon, make your own milestones to keep you going. Celebrate the first time, or every time, you and your dog pass another dog without any poor reactions. Or, if you’ve had a rough day, work on some well known cues to give your dog some small successes to end their day. Make your own success, and reward as you make progress, whatever that ends up looking like.
Monitor Your Progress
Speaking of progress, you can’t celebrate if you don’t know where you are and where you’re going. We like to set mini goals for every season, to give us things to shoot for and things to celebrate, even if the bigger picture looks a little rough now and then.
Release Your Own Physical Energy
If all else fails, you have my permission to scream, kick, and punch your way to feeling better. Just as long as you direct that energy towards things like pillows and punching bags, and not people or animals. If kickboxing or screaming to loud music isn’t your style, try some other cardio—get yourself moving, and make yourself good and tired. That frustrated energy will drain away, and you’ll have gotten a good workout out of it.
Take A Break from Your Dog
It's perfectly healthy spend a little time without your dog. As a remote employee, I do all my work from my house. This means I spend the majority of my waking hours around our animals—Topher and our two cats. By no means is this a bad thing! Topher makes great work company most of the time, and it’s fun to be able to take a break to play outside with him.
However, sometimes I just need a little time for myself, free from any demands on my attention—and that includes the loving demands of my pets. So take a walk on your own every once in awhile, or let your pup spend some time at daycare, if that’s an option. If it helps keep you sane and stress-free, that’s going to help your dog, too.
So when tensions are high and you’re frustrated with your pets, what do you do to calm back down? Add any helpful tips we might have missed in the comments!
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