You know that moment where your dog spots the trigger and you’re too late to respond because you’re trying to tie over that poop bag? Or maybe it’s when that trigger runs onto the elevator off-leash, around that tight corner on a noisy street.
Those are the “oh-crap” moments that we all deal with. Your dog bursts into that Tasmanian devil act and you feel like everyone is staring at you, judging, horrified.
Let’s take a moment to visualise this, take a deep breath, and then exhale, blowing them all out of our system along with the fear, frustration, anxiety, guilt, shame, and anger. You don’t need to carry this around.
It’s going to happen. Even after you graduate this course, I’m sorry to say.
No matter how much therapy a person goes through in life, they will still jump or scream when frightened. It’s a response. Over time, we can lessen the intensity of the reaction, and more importantly, recover faster.
Let’s make that our goal. Let’s accept the reaction and focus on the dog, not the audience. The audience does not matter.
Your dog is not giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time.
All eyes on your dog. Help them move away a little and encourage them to focus on you or on a scattering of food on the ground. Once you have some distance, find a way to slow that heart-rate down and help them think clearly.
What do I look for after a reaction? I want to see that Salinger goes back to his normal self – not terribly hyper-vigilant, scanning the environment for more triggers. I want to see that maybe he does a full-body shake-off to get rid of that stress. I want to see that he can give me some eye contact or perform an easy behaviour that I know he enjoys.
What do I avoid? (This is so tough…) I avoid asking him to sit or lie down. Why? Because both make the “victim” feel helpless. I never want my dog to feel that I’m making him stand still while a “monster” is coming to get him, so to speak. I want him to feel like he has some control in this situation and he can get away if need be.
Remember, that there is a fight/flight response and if we take away the flight response, they are only left with “fight”. Sitting, lying down, and being forced to stay put is what takes away that flight response. Who knew?! (Also, how many years have most of us spent teaching our dogs to sit and look at us in the face of a trigger?)
Let’s talk about the reactions and recovery. Join the discussion!