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If You Create a Problem, Now You Have a Problem

One time I was teaching an outdoor excursion class where we met in various locations and practiced canine manners in a real life setting. There was a lovely older woman who was running late to the class and rushing to get her dog ready. When she opened her car door, her excitable going Scottish Terrier slipped out and started running big circles in the parking lot, doing drive by hellos to ask her friends. Her owner screamed at her dog in fear and anger, which sped the Scottie onward. I asked the owner to take a seat in her car, ran the other way as fast as a could, giggling and calling the Scottie, and lo and behold I had a Scottie wiggly at my feet.

Livy and Anna the Chocolate Labs

Similarly, one day I headed outside with a high drive chocolate lab and her owner to work recall. The Lab's manners were actually immaculate but she was a teenager and had learned that she could get away with not listening with her owner. As soon as we got outside, the Lab saw some crows in the field and took off, pulling the leash from her owner's hand. The owner immediately started fretting. I called out "Anna, come here," no games this time, just the basics I knew she was solid on and the Lab stopped mid-chase and zoomed back to us.

Oliver chilling on the Fourth of July

In a different vein, I was boarding Oliver, the Newfoundland Service Dog I've been working with for the past year, over the Fourth of July. He has been afraid of thunder in the past and his owner has given me CBD oil and a Thunder Shirt just in case. I wasn't sure what to expect. But he spent five hours hanging out with us on the deck while my dogs lounged and played next to him and the boom of fireworks sounded not far over head. I shrugged and didn't need my calming aids that day. It's likely my dogs' lack of interest in the fireworks helped calm any anxiety Oliver was having. Once, My husband and I looked up and saw that Ami was holding a lightbulb in her mouth. To this day I have no idea where she got it. The impulse was to freak and yell, which very easily could have led to her biting down in the lightbulb. I calmly called Ami over, asked her to Give (release to hand) the lightbulb, and then tossed a ball for her as a reward. Crisis averted. When we devote time and energy to a problem when something doesn't go to plan we are inadvertently reinforcing that problem. Dog slips their collar and we starting begging and yelling? We've created a fun new game for the dog where their owner gets wound up while they run around. If I've trained my recall correctly (and even if I haven't) then I'm just going to matter of factly call my dog back to me acting super excited and like recall is the most fun game in the world. If I don't trust my training or doubt my dog for even a second then I'm likely giving subtle signs to my dog that will push them away

Spooky statues? "Ooh! How exciting!" Works every time.

Your dog gets spooked of a car backfiring and shies away and their owner pets them and hugs them? The dog has now learned the acting scared in that circumstance will result in physical and verbal attention from their owner. But if I ignore the sound, ignore the dog's response to it, and happy trot the opposite direction, cheerfully saying "Ooh, what was that?! Puppy, let's go! Yay!!!" Then my dog is going to see the sound doesn't bother me and they'll likely shake off and trot after me. When a dog steals a paper towel off the counter and I start fussing and trying to pry it out of their mouth telling them "Nonono. Bad dog!" all I'm doing is making that paper towel valuable and worth stealing. If I pick up a ball or a leash (because the dog doesn't have a solid Drop it/Out behavior on request yet) and ask my dog if they want to go for a walk or play ball, my dog is likely to drop the paper towel and go play a game that is more exciting that shredding a paper towel. So then I'll take my dog for a quick walk around the block or post a quick game of ball. I'm not saying you shouldn't comfort your dog when they're panicked. But I'm going to spend a lot more energy jollying my dog up than petting and verbally reassuring them. I'm going to pair a scary circumstance with fun and excitement instead. I'm also not saying you don't need to train recall. Dogs need a clear understanding of what to do when they're loose. They need to know how to come back. But by making a huge deal of when an accident happens and they get free we've unintentionally put more value on the dog running free. By forbidding them from being off leash except in a small handful of locations you are inherently putting more value on running free in other locations because they're forbidden. It's a catch-22: you have to keep your dog safe but by not allowing them off leash varying places they don't know how to recall in various places. It something that needs to be trained and bombproofed methodically so the dog generalizes recall everywhere. I'm also not saying don't use calming aids when a dog has anxiety. I want dogs to feel safe and free of insecurities and sometimes we need help to make that happen. But as much as humanly possible, I'm not going to feed their insecurities with energy. I'm going to use my aids, stay upbeat, and direct both of our focus to things other than the dog's trigger. Our natural instincts can make us our own worst enemies. We can create our own problems for ourselves very easily. I've spent a lot of time retraining myself to stay calm and collected under stress. But the next time management breaks down and an accident happens (your dog gets loose, they counter surf, they get scared, etc) and you need your dog to stop their present behavior (running amok, shredding a stolen item, bolting to the end of their leash, etc), take a deep breath and then devote your energy to cheerfully making what you want you dog to do look exciting and fun.

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