Recognizing Stress in Your Dog Training
Stress is inevitable.
We all suffer from stress.
From where did I put my hair tie, to whether or not you know where the next meal is coming, all of these range on a scale of “stress”.
Most of us can prioritize.
For instance, I am not as concerned about my hair tie as I am about the fact that I have enough to eat and drink.
I try my best not to “freak out” about either, since only proactive work toward a goal can usually help with stress.
But we all know the person that “freaks out” about EVERYTHING or anything and just can’t function.
Dogs can be like this too.
Some dogs will rarely ever suffer from stress in their lives, they are the happy go lucky life livers and lovers (just like some people).
And, there are some dogs that are stressed by the sighting of their own shadow (these are the dogs that are fearful and unsure of everything in their environment that they don’t know).
And, much like people, there are dogs that fall somewhere in between!
It used to be that any kind of dog training was stressful for the dog.
The dog was given a command (much of the time that he didn’t understand) and then he was physically yanked, poked and prodded until he assumed the correct position.
His dread came when he saw the leash, had it clipped and was issued a word he didn’t know.
He would do his best to concentrate and understand what was happening, but it was stressful.
Stress was the main ingredient.
And, to be truthful, it was stressful for the human to!
- Shout command, make sure it is the right command, physically pop the leash and force 200# dog to submit. Crawl on the ground, force dog into a down.
- Correct dog when it looks away.
- Correct dog when it doesn’t listen immediately.
- Correct dog when he does something you don’t like.
Just typing it all out stresses me…
No wonder no one, including the dog (in most instances) hated “dog training”.
Dog training or dog training class was one to be avoided or to find any excuse to get out of it.
These “well trained dogs” hung their heads and behaved more like sad robots than the animated happy dogs of today’s obedience trials.
I think we can agree that it is more difficult to l
I Have to Remind Myself of This
I have to remind myself of this negative kind of training, now, when I have students who aren’t nearly as excited about their “dog training” as I am.
After all, 20 years have ingrained the “dog trainer” in me!
Time spent with my dogs, teaching them something new or working on an existing behavior is my solace!
Running with my shoes laced up, an ear bud in one ear (I don’t believe women should ever run without being able to hear what is potentially coming up behind them), and a dog in heel position pounding the pavement with me is one of my happiest places.
But, I have to teach people that training can actually vanquish their stress if they do it right, and it can help their dogs feel better about life too!
Dog training should be full of games and fun! Everyone should win!
I will say, that some worry wart dogs can get a little stressed even when you are doing positive reinforcement training.
The treat doesn’t come as fast as they think it should, or they get frustrated because they don’t know what you want… all of these and plenty of other things can cause stress. And, some of these stressors are actually important to learning (frustration can bring about other behaviors that we are looking for).
So what do you do if you have a dog that is the overly stressed kind? Or seems to have trouble learning?
It is your JOB to become even more FUN!
When I am working with a nervous dog, it is up to me to vanquish his stress and to set the PAR-TAY tone for our training sessions.
Recognize the Signs
I think people want to drill, and drill and drill and dogs become confused and easily stressed.
It is our job to notice when our dogs are feeling stress and to relieve it to the best of our
- Yawning (actually a sign of stress)
- Wandering away
- Looking away
- Not adhering to obedience you know he knows
These are just a few of the signs that your dog is stressed.
Stress isn’t terrible, it is a part of life, but we learn better when stress is lessened.
So when we see these signs we struggle with the idea of MAKING HIM BEHAVE
And admitting that maybe we have pushed training a little too far that day!
Have I done it?
YES!!! YES, emphatically YES!
I don’t mean to; but I suppose I drill sometimes.
So when I get a dog that is usually listens but can’t seem to find his groove, it is time to consider more play and fun and less stress!
I teach a lot about eye contact and focus for more on that click here. It is not an easy behavior to get and sustain on cue.
I find some of my clients literally angrily leering at their dogs.
Sometimes I wander my classes with a mirror, and I whip it out to see how they would feel at that exact moment.
Most don’t understand that they look like overgrown angry ogres to their dog.
It seems when humans intensify our faces get very serious.
In order to work successfully and healthily with our dogs, I think we need to break this.
- Be the life of the party.
And, when I pull out my mirror you will see a happy animated person, not a staring, serious creepy person.
That is not to say that obedience is not a serious matter, it is!
Having my dog come back to me when I call him away from running across a street when a car is coming is critical to my future happiness, and my dogs but my attitude also prompts him.
Dogs Like Happy
- Dogs like happy people
- Dogs like games
- Dogs like fun
- Dogs live in the moment
- Dogs like to play
- Dogs like to think
- Dogs like to be challenged to do more and be better (if you do it in a fun way)
- Dogs are always excited
So, if you feel signs of stress from your dog, or from yourself you need to interject some fun into your routine.
Let him catch a ball, let him sniff, let him be a dog.
Get on the ground with him and PLAY
And once the mood has lightened you can decide if there should be more training or more playing in this sessions future!
I almost always vote for more PLAY!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.