We wouldn’t be human if frustration didn’t sometimes creep in when managing our dogs, particularly when helping them overcome training and behavior related issues. I don’t think it’s possible not to experience these emotions and I never blame owners for feeling exasperated or at the end of their tether at some stage. It’s important always to consider the impact training or behavior issues have on their owners, families and family structure, especially if other fragilities are already present. So what can we do if we are helping our dogs through some tough behavior modification and it’s maybe taking its toll on you, never mind the dog? How do we keep going through the processes of general training, maybe during that difficult puppy period, or during adolescence and beyond?
The very first thing I would say is, identify that you are perhaps struggling and recognize that no, you’re not alone! Your previous dogs may have been angelic and caused you no issues whatsoever, but all dogs are different and that is their beauty. It may be difficult to see, but embrace the challenge! Understand that you may need assistance. That is not a failure, times have moved on and there is now excellent professional, qualified, science based and contemporary help out there, so go and get it. You will receive a dedicated and personally designed plan which will help you and your dog, with specific support tailored to you throughout the whole of the remedial process. To find such a trainer in your area, contact the Pet Professional Guild, Pet Professional Guild British Isles or Pet Professional Guild Australia.
Don’t sweat the small stuff! If times are tough it’s easy to focus right in on everything that’s negative. If you do this, you end up with a downward spiral that won’t do either of you any good and will build frustration. True, at first, you may have more negatives than positives, but focus on something your dog did that was as you had hoped. Maybe she sat when you asked, focused on you when a bird flew by, or didn’t snatch the food from your hand. Find something and praise both of you. No matter how severe the behavioral issues are — and I’ve witnessed some pretty severe cases — I will always look for the positives. This builds hope and lifts esteem. Before long, you will recognize more and more glimmers of hope and these will build and build.
Evaluate your goals and expectations. Too often these are simply unrealistic when considering the dog, her circumstances and current behavior. Put simply, we often ask for too much, too soon and because we do, we become disappointed. This is not about keeping expectations low but keeping goals realistic for the present circumstance. If your dog is extremely highly aroused, then don’t simply expect her to sit and be ultra calm in the presence of visitors in public and sit quietly, come back when called and ignore every available distraction – it won’t happen! Settle for one goal e.g. begin ignoring low level distractions and look at what is causing or contributing to over-arousal and work on that first, then move up the goal ladder.
Know when to stop. If you’re feeling disheartened, frustrated or angry, then just end your session then and there and walk away. Ditto if the dog is unfocused or distracted. Shouting at your dog (or worse) or simply carrying on until she ‘gets it’, just won’t work and will make you feel worse and your dog fearful – not a great combination. Sessions can be really short and always try to end a session on a positive note. You might not achieve what you set out to achieve but hopefully you will accomplish something, a small token. Then just have a break and start again when you’re feeling calmer.
Don’t listen to others. Focus on you and your dog. You have your plan, all you need to do is stick to it. It’s easier to say than do, but others don’t know your dog, you, or what you’re trying to do, so close your eyes and ears and turn your back. Unfortunately, when it comes to dogs, everyone becomes an ‘expert,’ but in reality the only person who truly knows your dog is you. If you receive unhelpful or hurtful comments, try not to take them on board. You are trying your best. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong. This can’t be helped, just keep going and try not to let it affect you. If you’re receiving help from a qualified behaviorist, discuss any of these incidents and then move on.
Never forget that if your dog has training or behavior issues, she needs you to help her resolve them. It is up to us to assist our dogs as best we can and set them up for success, always.