You voted yesterday and now your dog gets a vote. A vote on when to approach a new person, place or thing and a vote on when to retreat. Choice gives your dog the ability to step away from and avoid anything or anyone that scares, overwhelms or just bothers her. And, yes it’s fair.
Imagine if you had no choice in moving away from the annoying guy who approaches you a little too aggressively in a bar. Or if you couldn’t step back from a high ledge that scares you or step out of a crowded room to catch your breath at a professional event before going back in to network.
Having the choice to step back and reset is critical to all creatures living in our complicated and crowded world. Without it, people and dogs alike either shut down or explode to relieve the pressure and get the problem to back off.
So can’t you just make your dog just stand still and cope with other dogs, moving vehicles or whatever bothers her? You can, but may not get the long-term results you really want:
- Force never changes anyone’s mind. Whatever is perceived as a threat needs to become irrelevant to the dog. I’m not a fan of heights. I’ve climbed 10’ ladders, which was a requirement at a retail job I held, but have never changed my mind about heights. And even at that retail job, I needed to quickly prepare myself mentally before going all the way to the top to stock shelves. To this day, I’m still careful when going up and down a ladder, no matter how small or tall. If I found falling off a ladder fun or thrilling, I’d change how I respond to heights. Nope, not planning on working on that!
- Force doesn’t build trust. You should always have your dog’s back and all dogs have some Achilles Heel or, at the very least, likes and dislikes that should be respected as much as possible. We should know and understand our dogs. Some will never like the erratic behavior of toddlers and some will always struggle with fast moving, rumbling trucks. They can learn to function in sight of either, but may never be a real fan.
- Force can put the dog in the tough position of choosing a stronger behavior to stop the scary person from approaching, stopping the child from grabbing her fur or increasing the distance between the dog and the traffic. This makes the dog choose a behavior you’ll listen to, which could be a growl, snap, bite or escape.
So, what’s the alternative?
Look at the behavior you need to change and get the appropriate help for changing how the dog perceives whatever scares or overwhelms her. You’ll start with changing the dog’s emotional response, which changes how the dog reacts and opens the door to building alternative behaviors. Afraid of traffic? Sit and look at me until it passes. Afraid of running children? Sit and take a treat from them while they stand or sit still.
What does your dog struggle with?
The important thing is to listen to your dog and give her a vote! Her reaction to people, places and things does matter. With proper training you can start to build new, better associations which result in better behavior.