IS MY DOG SAFE?  THE STARTING POINT FOR EVERYTHING!

 

As a dog trainer and behaviourist, I often have clients asking me about anxiety or even hyperactivity with their dog, and how to rectify this.  I tend to have a different starting point to many though, I combine my approach with my human holistic therapy knowledge, and I suppose my experience of teaching young adults with special educational needs/emotional and behavioural difficulties, in FE Colleges. 

Instead of going right in, 100 miles an hour, with how to train a certain obedience behaviour, I begin with being able to feel safe and calm in their environment, to build a relationship of trust, and build up from there.  It is much easier to start with this, than to need to reach out to a behaviourist several months or years down the line.

 

Well, underlying everything, regardless of species, is feeling safe.  Many people only consider safety on the physical level, the safety from physical dangers and harm.  Of course, physical safety is important, however, safety means so much more and includes emotional, mental, and a more subtle energetical sense of safety (gut feelings).

As a human we could even include the safety to be our true, authentic selves, to express ourselves without fear of judgement.  It could be the safety of being in a healthy relationship, rather than a toxic one.  Even if we are physically safe, is the situation, the environment, the company, the type that results in a happy, calm, content, feeling within or do you feel uncomfortable in some way?

When we don’t feel safe then we can behave in negative ways, and we learn to adapt to survive.  There may be mood swings, aggressive behaviour, erratic or unpredictable behaviour, attachment issues, low mood, hypervigilance, obsessive behaviour, and so on, and we can see these in dogs too.

 

There is a dysregulation of the nervous system, with the fight/flight response being almost constantly active, and the dog will do whatever they can to try and escape that lack of safety that they feel within their bodies (as will humans).

As dog guardians, we can be so keen to get our dogs out there, to socialise and habituate them to their surroundings, that we rush it and do it all wrong.  We do it at our pace and not theirs and in doing so we do not give them time to process everything around them.  They can so easily feel overwhelmed by all of the processing that they don’t feel safe, they need to get out of there, and they will do what they can to ease their distress.

I am writing this, assuming that dog guardians are now all using kind methods of dog training, however, if punishment is being used, especially physical punishment, shouting, lead jerking, or walking equipment that tightens on the dogs body, then we also need to consider this when assessing how safe our dog feels.  Relationship building and trust are so important, and that cannot be gained when training using fear and pain.

So, before we can hope to modify any behaviours, or to teach new skills, we need to prioritise stress reduction and bringing the body back into psychological, physiological, and physical balance; as close as possible anyway.  This may be through adding in rest days, where you replace walks with calm scent work or Parkour exercises at home, reducing the amount of people coming to the house, changing the diet, or taking management steps within your home so that they cannot bark out of the window at passers-by.  If it has been a sudden change in behaviour, then a veterinary appointment to check for pain or infection is required.

Another thing to consider is the household itself.  Are you always on the go?  Are you stressed?  Perhaps you have children running about the house?  How calm is the environment that your dog is living in and are they able to get enough quality sleep each day, away from the comings and goings?  Never underestimate the importance of sleep and time in a calm environment.  I have had many behaviour clients where the solution has been to help the guardians recognise their own stress levels and steps to find their own inner calm, it hasn’t been about the dog at all.  A Touch for Health Kinesiology session with the guardian and the dog’s behaviour is so much better before we even begin with the dog training/behaviour modification.

If you have a dog who is hyperactive, anxious, reactive, or who, on walks, stops and refuses to walk, or who pulls like a steam train, stop for a moment, step back from the situation, and consider if your dog truly feels safe in their environment.  Are you asking too much of them too soon?

A safe dog is calm, a safe dog is grounded, a safe dog can listen and respond, a safe dog is keen and able to learn……. is that your dog?

If you would like to know more about anything above or give me some ideas of what you would like me to discuss in further articles, then please get in touch.

More information can be found on Dog Parkour here: www.dogparkour.org 

Helen Gerard

BSc (Hons) Canine Behaviour Management, APDT 01074

 

© Copyright Helen Gerard - United Wellbeing