If you have an over-aroused dog, you’ll be no stranger to emotional outbursts. Overwhelming experiences like these can trigger anxieties that make it difficult for you and your dog to move forward. But life with a reactive dog doesn’t have to be this way.
When Andrea Baumann got her standard poodle, Tobias, she dreamed he would become her service dog. Andrea was aware of Tobias’ over-arousal and was prepared to help him overcome this so that one day, he could help her.
But over time, Tobias’ reactivity got worse. Andrea turned to the Brilliant Partners Academy (BPA), and has since been on a journey that’s transformed their relationship.
Keep reading to find out how they’ve overcome their obstacles and more!
In service of a struggling trainee service dog
Andrea got Tobias when he was 10 months old, and he already had known behavior issues. She quickly noticed that his main struggle was over-arousal as he became super excited and reactive toward other dogs.
This was a big problem when he attended his formal service dog training program. While Tobias would be top of the class in some respects, he was clearly struggling in others. Looking back now, Andrea says he was trying to communicate that the program was too challenging for him.
“The behavior issues were coming out, and now I know that his stress bucket was full.”
Andrea didn’t know at the time that this was how Tobias really felt. So, she looked for help treating the reactive symptoms – aka barking, pulling, and just going nuts!
They worked with behaviorists and did lots of one-on-one training, and Tobias responded well. But when it came to a real-world situation, Tobias found it challenging to apply what he’d learned and actually began to display more reactive behavior, such as chasing wildlife and cars.
Listening to your dog’s communication
Andrea then joined the BPA, hoping to find a more successful approach to helping Tobias with his over-arousal. She says one of the first things she came to understand was that it didn’t matter why Tobias was reactive – it just mattered that he was communicating his comfort level.
“He was showing me that this is too hard for me. I wasn’t making good choices for us by putting him in situations that were too hard thinking that we were training and counter-conditioning, and all of that.”
This was the moment that things started to change. Andrea realized that Tobias’ behavior was part of his fire-type personality and, with a better understanding of this, she could make choices that suited both of them.
It was after learning to listen to Tobias’ communication that things started to move forward.
How to stop stress buckets overflowing
The next thing Andrea had to tackle was their stress buckets. Both Andrea’s and Tobias’ were overflowing! But Andrea learned that there was one thing she could do to stop this spiral.
“I’ve just really learned how, as a loving leader, when I can help my own stress and role model calm, he responds to that.”
Isn’t that amazing? Of course, when Andrea was stressed, so was Tobias. But now Tobias knows that if Andrea’s calm, he can be too. This realization really helped to break their stress-bucket cycle, and it’s something Andrea returns to time and time again. In fact, this role modeling played a big part in avoiding a recent meltdown.
Avoiding an over-aroused meltdown
Andrea and Tobias came face-to-face with a dog on their driveway completely unexpectedly. In the past, this would have triggered Tobias’ reactivity, sent Andrea’s anxiety into a spiral, and left both of them in a big mess.
But Andrea now uses three tools to overcome situations like this. She takes a deep breath, exudes calm energy, and (if Tobias is happy to engage) uses a gentle touch to bring him back to a place of connection.
In this situation, Andrea calmly brought Tobias back into the house. His safe space, away from his triggers, and focused on connecting with Tobias.
“He vocalized, but he didn’t freak out and I knew what to do. I just steered him back into the house, we connected, we calmed down, and five minutes later, we went for a walk. Like it was a non-event, and I just couldn’t believe it, compared to the past where it would have been like a big ‘oh no’ for both of us.”
What an amazing transformation!
Andrea also knows that if she feels stressed by a certain situation, she’ll find a way to create a better experience for them both. For example, when her usual walking routes became busy, Andrea started to feel overwhelmed about how over-aroused Tobias might get.
She had two options: struggle through a hard situation or find a new solution. With her newfound knowledge of Tobias’ personality and how important it was for Andrea to feel calm, she decided to find a new, quieter place to walk together. The best choice for both of them!
Why a refocus can help you find connection
Andrea says that the biggest change for her partnership with Tobias has been her mindset shift. Now, she’s not comparing Tobias to other dogs in training programs or focusing on the problems they’re facing. Instead, she’s accepted Tobias for who he is.
“I kind of felt like, what’s wrong with you? It’s been a process of learning that there’s nothing wrong with him. It’s my job to support him, not to try to fix him. I was so focused on his behavior issues that I was missing out on the joy and the connection.”
It can be difficult to connect with an easily over-aroused dog for this reason. You become so hyper-focused on the challenges that you and your dog face, you miss out on all of the good stuff!
Tobias is Andrea’s first dog, so she admits to being unaware of just how strong a connection can be between a person and their dog. Before, she always saw the relationship as transactional. But now she says they have a level of connection she “didn’t know was possible”.
From struggling service dog to happy partners
Refocusing from problems to partnership is what’s really transformed Andrea and Tobias’ relationship. It’s been a journey of growth, from letting go of expectations to accepting Tobias’ personality and learning to truly listen.
Andrea has since decided on a career change for Tobias. Instead of his role as her service dog, he is now her “best boy, pet, partner, and friend.”
It’s been fantastic to watch Andrea and Tobias’ partnership strengthen over time and see how Andrea turned it around when it seemed like they had it all going against them. I’m delighted that, with the help of the BPA, Andrea could finally help Tobias with his over-arousal and become the brilliant partners each other needed!
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 enrollment!
If you liked this post, then I encourage you to check out my full conversation with Andrea over on the Enlightened By Dogs Podcast. It’s episode 163 “Helping an Easily Over-Aroused Dog with Andrea Baumann” and you can listen to it here.