Have you ever been snuggled up with your dog with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand, the other gently resting on your dog’s back when BAM! There’s a knock on the door, your dog jumps up, knocks the mug out of your hand, and barks hysterically at the unknown caller?
Now you’re furious at not only your dog but whoever is at the door too. Why didn’t they call first so you would be prepared for this? Why didn’t they text to let you know they were outside the door and you wouldn’t have hot cocoa all over your couch, the carpet, and yourself?
Or, maybe you’re out walking your dog, and everything is going great. Birds are singing in the trees. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin… and then all hell breaks loose when a stranger’s dog (who’s off the leash by the way) comes charging towards your nervous dog like a crazed bull.
Now the walk is ruined, your peace has turned to anger and frustration, and you can’t help but blame the other dog owner for letting their dog come so close to yours. I mean, they should know better, right?
Does any of this sound familiar?
If you’re nodding along and thinking back to a similar time in your own life, then welcome to the club! It’s natural to react or behave in a certain way that, despite our best intentions, may not be as helpful as we might think.
That’s what I’m going to talk about today… how to avoid the frustration and annoyance that ruins our peace, causes us to react a little irrationally, and how to bring everyone back to feeling safe, calm, and happy (and yes, I’m talking about you!)
Overcoming bad habits
When life happens and your dog doesn’t feel safe, calm, or happy anymore, it’s tempting to blame the trigger. Maybe your neighbor keeps letting their dog out whenever yours is out in the morning and they bark like crazy over the fence? Or, maybe your husband or partner doesn’t stick to the same Brilliant Partners Academy protocols you’ve been using with your dog and you feel like it’s causing you to take a step backward every time?
The typical emotional response to these types of experiences is frustration. We don’t usually think about our reaction until after it’s already happened. We are stuck in our bad habits BUT there is a way to change our habits so that when things don’t go our way, we learn how to respond in a better way so that we can all go back to feeling safe, calm, and happy.
Before we get into it though, let me remind you that we’re talking about your bad habits, not your dog’s habits.
“I’m a big proponent of changing things quickly and not letting bad habits develop.”
So, this is all going to be from your perspective to help you become the loving leader your dog needs you to be. Sound good? Great, let’s dig in!
Stop putting your dog in uncomfortable situations
I get a lot of questions from dog moms who say things like, my dog is always barking at other dogs, how do I get him to stop? Or, my dog won’t listen when I call him back to me, he just keeps running, what should I do?
My first piece of advice is to simply stop putting your dog into a situation where you know they’re going to “misbehave.”
Your dog can’t tell you how they’re feeling with words. No matter how bad your dog’s behavior is, your dog’s behavior is just communication. It’s how they communicate their feelings. When they’re pulling on the leash, lunging at other dogs, or barking hysterically, it’s their way of telling you that they don’t feel safe, calm, or happy.
“Your dog is just letting you know how they feel.”
Try not to blame your dog for expressing themselves the only way they know how. Learn to listen to your dog and if you know your dog is going to react badly when facing certain triggers, try your best to limit your dog’s exposure to those triggers as much as possible.
Learning to take responsibility
Taking responsibility for your dog and your dog’s feelings can be difficult, especially when at first, it seems like it’s someone else’s fault. Let me give you a personal example that shows first of all, that I’m far from perfect, and secondly, how much your mindset can change when you learn to take responsibility.
So, whenever Joe comes home from the store, the dogs go mad. They’re excited to see him and when he doesn’t try to manage them, it frustrates me. The dogs start barking at everything and they’re over excited and worked up.
Usually, this all happens at the worst possible time, like when I’m hosting a class for members of the Brilliant Partners Academy or when I’m recording a new episode of the Enlightened By Dogs podcast.
I end up getting really frustrated but before I let myself get carried away, I ask myself, “who is responsible for this?” At first, I’m tempted to point my finger at Joe. I mean, he’s the one that sparked the sudden eruption of barking and so on, right? But then, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m the one that is responsible. It’s my life. They’re my dogs.
“If I’m responsible, that means I have the ability to make a new choice to do something different.”
Every ‘failure’ is a learning opportunity. Getting mad or frustrated doesn’t do you any good and it definitely doesn’t do your dogs any good. Remember that your dog tends to mimic your emotional response to situations that unfold in everyday life.
So, when your reaction is shrouded in frustration and anger, your dog senses that and will become even more protective, overexcited, or anxious, etc.
Reminding myself that I am the only one responsible for my dogs and their behavior helps to diffuse the situation. It’s empowering because if I’m responsible, that means I can make a new choice to be better prepared for situations like this in the future.
Getting to the place where you’re willing to accept responsibility is not easy. It’s a lifelong process and although I’ve got decades of experience, I’m still learning every single day.
If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrolment!
You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 98, which you can listen to here.
Watch a short video trailer of the episode below: