“I Can’t. You’re Making Me Nervous”

shutterstock_327890141Have you noticed that there are times when your dog can't respond to a cue that is normally easy? It may be the environment is different or too distracting. Or, it may be you. 

That's abrupt, I know. But, stay with me, it will all make sense in a moment. 

I've seen this phenomenon multiple times in my training classes. If the sound of the owner's voice is strident, as though the dog has already failed, the dog tries to appease the owner and that appeasement behavior isn't the sit, down, stay, etc... that the owner asked for. Sometimes the dog's body language is obvious: ears against the head, shoulders hunched, licking of the lips, squinting of the eyes, sidling up to the owner. But, sometimes, it doesn't look like this at all. Some dog jumps on the owner out of confusion and anxiety or, more often, won't look at them at all. Turning away is a "calming signal". The dog is saying, 

"Hey, let's just dial this whole thing down. You get a hold of yourself, I'll make eye contact when you're calm."

My 3 year old Golden Retriever is, let's just say, not your typical Golden. She is high drive with a tennis ball. Normal. But, unlike the stereotypical Golden who would greet a burglar at the door, rear end wagging happily, this one barks as she's backing up and tentatively tries to make contact with a new guest. She is a socially low-confidence dog. 

This atypical Golden does something else that I have learned to recognize. When she feels that I am stressed or frustrated, she doesn't respond to simple cues, like "sit" or "stay". This, of course, makes me a little more on edge. We get stuck in that cycle until I "wake up" and realize that if I take a deep breath, smile, relax and change the tone of my voice from "impatient" to "friendly," she can cooperate normally.

We know that dogs are experts at reading body language, but, they are also masters at noticing when our emotions are out of whack. I love that she helps me recognize when I need to chill out. She reminds me that anxiety and "disobedience" are two completely different things. 

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Positively Expert: Laura Brody

Laura Brody is the owner of Denver's Good Family Dog, Kind, Purposeful, Force-Free Dog Training and Behavior.


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