As we and our dogs make our way through our daily lives, we hope that every experience is happy and pleasant for our canines! Unfortunately, factors in the environment, like bad encounters with other dogs, bolting away from panic or over-stimulation, can very quickly turn positive situations into negative ones.
It is impossible to plan for everything that could happen. If we tried, I think we might all be walking around in plastic bubbles. However, there are a few preventative measures we can take to help our furry companions, and ourselves, best handle (what could be) a traumatic situation:
- KNOW YOUR CANINE:
Knowing your canine means working with them to understand their personalities, their fears and their ambitions (or drives). Armed with this knowledge, we can go through routines and avoid moving too far out of our dog’s “zone of comfort” where a reactive behaviour might trump them using their brainpower.
It also empowers us. The deeper our knowledge of the details, the finer tuned our training can become. Not only can we work through new environments and experiences while feeling at ease that we are not causing undue stress and anxiety, but we can utilize their zone of comfort to help them work through past experiences that have left them anxious or unsure.
If your relationship is new, your canine is recovering from medical issues that can influence behaviour, or you are working through behavioural baggage, please also read the Yellow Dog Project post I wrote a couple months ago and visit their website for more details.
- BE ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE:
Knowing your environment starts with knowing what is going on in your personal space. Ever see someone enter a crosswalk right into traffic because they are texting? They are so absorbed in the task at hand that they don’t even realize they are stepping out in front of a moving car! Some of us are gifted with this ability to know what is going on. It is innate to be aware of our surroundings and it is second nature to use our senses, sight and sound, to know what is going on around us. For others, this type of vigilance requires practice. We get lost in our own thoughts, or in the phone call that just came in, and we become blind to what is occurring around us. Practice will increase this ability. Your range of awareness will grow and so give you more time to create a good situation.
- Look ahead. If you are walking down a trail, try to look as far ahead as possible to see what is coming up. You can avoid sticky situations with other dogs before they even begin by moving to the side. This includes looking up and down – staying clear of those poisonous plants means one less expensive and stressful trip to the vet.
- Use your hearing. Many of us live in busy cities and towns and this increases the ambient noise we put up with, and actually habituates and dulls our sense of hearing. Yet, we are really good at picking up noises that “just don’t belong” (e.g. a dog suddenly barking with intention). When that happens, trust your instincts. Take your time, and set up for success.
- BRING TREATS WITH YOU:
I never leave home with Zoom without bringing my treat bag that I use for teaching and learning new tricks! Treats, especially items that are high reward for your canine (for Zoom, this might be cheese or chicken), give you a lot of power to make a potentially terrible situation a little better. How many of us didn’t like visiting the dentist when we were kids? Once the dentist brought out the sucker jar when they finished, those little ones would leave with a big smile (or at the very least, stop the waterworks and vocal cord workout!).
The same can happen for a dog. Just like us, they will carry “baggage” from experiences in their lives. These experiences shape them and create the dynamic personalities we can see when we compare brothers and sisters from within a litter. If the worst happens when a situation occurs, one of the simplest things we can do after we have removed them from danger is give a quick task request for a behaviour they can do in their sleep (e.g. sit) to get their focus back to you, and then reward them like you have never done before! Yummy treats, happy faces, a favorite toy, lots of petting, and even some distracted goofing around can immediately help your canine off the “red zone” cliff and get them back on track to “happy land”!
It is important for us as caregivers, and our canines, that we can go about our daily lives without undue stress and fear. Past encounters can be traumatizing to both, but avoiding the outdoors or other people and dogs doesn’t do either you or your canine any good. By knowing our dogs and understanding our environment, we can plan ahead to make every situation as positive as we can. Each positive encounter gives our furry friends and us motivation to continue to grow and the mental strength to work through new and exciting situations… with treats, of course!
Want help understanding your canine? If you might be feeling discouraged because you just can’t seem to keep your canine off the “red zone” cliff, contact me anytime to talk about how we can get you and your dog get back on track and back into your community!