Safety; What it Means in Dog Training
Dog training can be a very emotional ride.
And, I am not even talking about YOU the dog owner!
I am talking about your dog!
I’ll say that again, yes, dogs have emotions.
They may not have complex emotions nor are they manipulative but they do have simple emotions and fear is one of them.
I have talked a lot about fear lately; but it is a very intricate problem and can come in a variety of severity.
When we are training or working with our dogs, we often think that they are distracted, dumb, and stubborn or just intentionally ignoring our commands.
But what if it is because we are not meeting their emotional needs?
Recently I was looking through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I haven’t had the joy of reading since college.
And, it got me to thinking… I think dogs have the same basic needs.
They want a full belly, and water and directly after that they need a safe place to live and sleep.
But, they also need to feel safe when we are dog training with them.
And, I think we often misunderstand our dogs and how they are feeling.
Sometimes it is easy to see when they are scared, but other times I think we misinterpret it as them being obstinate.
Let’s say for instance that your dog is nervous of cars or other wheeled objects.
He may seem aggressive, overly excited, or maybe he just can’t focus with cars close. All of these can be signs of distress.
So it would be hard for him to learn a new behavior, or even perhaps perform an established or known behavior while near cars or other vehicles.
Does that make sense?
Let’s Put This into Human Terms
While visiting a continuing education seminar in California on learning new mathematical equations you experience an earthquake.
The things around you are shaking and moving, the floor is bucking under your feet; but your teacher is pressing you to either learn or dictate mathematical equations.
Could you do it?
What if trees were falling down around and crashing into the building and loud booms could be heard?
You probably could not, because at the very simplest level your needs for safety aren’t being met.
If you don’t feel safe, you search for safety.
If you were in that earthquake you would be running to a doorway, or a ditch, or somewhere that you would feel safe and math would be the last thing on your mind.
Your Dog Needs to Feel Safe
Your dog needs to feel safe in order to learn or to perform his dog training for you.
And, with safety comes trust in you (the owner) and then confidence.
So if you are having trouble getting your dog to listen in doggy obedience class, outside, at the park, at a friend’s house; then perhaps he doesn’t feel safe there?!
How to Ensure That Safe Feeling
Begin by training at home!
As long as your dog is used to being in your home and you train in a happy and positive manner, home is the best place to start training!
So many people begin their dog training by taking a puppy class or an obedience class; but the very best place to start is alone at home without distractions and in a place that your dog feels safe.
Next move to somewhere else that your dog is comfortable and familiar with, and slowly add more and more environments first that your dog knows and then that he doesn’t. As your dog is effective and learns and is having fun; his confidence is being built and he is learning to trust and enjoy the time spend with you!
This transfers over to even places where he once did not feel safe.
It is easy to tell that some dogs are fearful and nervous.
Most people aren’t tuned into their dogs, they think hackles, aggression, dilated eyes, and stiff body positions are normal or not a fear problem.
But some dogs are obviously fearful; tails tucked, running backward, hiding and avoiding contact are all more easily spotted.
If your dog shows these signs GET HIM OUT OF THERE.
One of My Favorite Fear Stories
I had a dog who was rock solid! Almost (as it turns out) bomb proof.
Guns didn’t bother him, traffic didn’t bother him, he loved all dogs and people and he was in fact my Service Dog Demo Dog… meaning he spent most of his life in public putting on demonstrations and doing Service Dog work.
His name was Mr. Snitch by the way and he became part of my soul.
When he was about 2, it was time for my 10 year high school reunion.
I was pretty proud of myself! I had developed a really good resume and had just started my own nonprofit. So of course I brought him with me for emotional support and to brag about the things I had accomplished in life. And, Mr. Snitch… well he liked going everywhere with me.
So I took him to our first night’s get together at a bowling alley and to my surprise he FREAKED. He whined and he paced and pretty soon with all the balls crashing he tried to get away.
Even though I wanted to spend time with my friends I knew I had to leave.
It wasn’t in his best interests to stay and he was one of my best friends; how could I expect him to be so miserable.
He continued to live a long life as a Service Dog until he died of cancer at just under 8. And, I never had a problem with him again… not jack hammers, not whips, not cars back firing; nothing else bothered him.
So if you have a nervous dog, don’t push them. Take them back to a place of safety and try to determine WHY and if it is something that needs to be worked through.
And,if it is work on it slowly and with compassion desensitizing the dog as you go for more on desensitization click here.
So if he is not learning or he seems distracted; ask yourself does he feel "safe" here?
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.