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Do you know how to spot that your dog is stressed?

Did you know fidgeting is one of the 5 stress responses that dogs (and humans) show when they are worried, anxious or they feel in danger.

 

The 5 responses are:


  • Fight – the body prepares to protect itself physically.

  • Flight – the body prepares to run away from danger.

  • Freeze – the body becomes immobile and freezes.

  • Fidget – the body becomes agitated and starts to fidget or fool around.

  • Faint – the body becomes limp, and the nervous system shuts down totally to protect itself. 


I want to ask you a favour on behalf of your dog!


Everyone

I want to ask you to really look at your dog and try to find the context for your dog fidgeting or fooling around. 


Is it constant, are they always on the go?  Can they settle down often and have quality rest?  When you are out and about on a walk, do they paw at you as they walk or jump up at you?  Do they grab the leash, stop to scratch more often than seems appropriate, do they shake off a lot? 


When you stop on your walk, or change the direction/environment do these things get better (ie become less frequent)?  If so, this is a good sign that your dog has some anxiety in that situation and they need your help.


 

Puppies

This is imperative for puppies just starting out in the world – don’t be in a hurry to walk them* – they haven’t had a chance to make positive associations with the big bad world, and more importantly, you haven’t had time to learn your dog’s body language so you can recognise when they are feeling scared!


*this is the time for appropriate socialisation: taking your puppy to new places while they sit with you on your knee, in the car, somewhere safe to watch the world go by while having lunch! We can help with that too on our Puppy Foundation Course.

 

Some homework

For the next 5 days, take notes of things that happen on your walk.  I would strongly suggest

that if something happens more than once on one walk or two days in a row, you change the way you walk, the place you walk or the environment you walk in – and it may even mean that you take a break from walks in order to give your dog a chance to destress before you start to address the issues above in a safe and more gentle way for your dog.

“take your dog out to a non busy place, grab a blanket, a coffee, and sit with your dog and watch the world go by

Take their lunch, some yummy rewards, a nice chew or a sniffy interactive toy (like a lickimat), that they can enjoy while you drink your coffee.  NO phone (unless you want to video the session to review your dogs body language better)! 
Watch your dog, recognise what excites them, what worries them, what they do to help themselves cope, or not”.
Most of all, reward every look, settle, or even through scary things at a distance to make a positive association for future."

We are our dog’s only advocate and we need to help them feel safe, so they trust us to ask for help and when they do, we understand – we never want to ignore these signs, as it is never nice for any party when our dogs have to shout!

 

Dog Sports

For those of us who take part in dog sports, this is really important too! Having spent many years in the show ring, I see a lot of dogs "fidgeting" when being stacked for the judge causing frustration in the handlers, who just reset the dog quickly (and sometimes harshly), without actually looking at the dog and what's going on around them or even checking that their body is in a comfortable position! Dogs are really good at standing by themselves, in a balanced manner (providing they are conformationally able to do so), and for us to place them, we really need to look at their bodies, observe how they feel about that position, consider the environment we are asking them to stand still in, and whether it is rewarding for them (or not)


At home, practice that position with LOTS of reinforcement - not by holding a piece of food at their nose (luring) and expecting them to not want to move towards the food. Now that's another few blog posts all on their own!

 

How I can help

If your dog just hasn’t learned that standing still is an option, we can teach them to “stand”, just like we can teach them to sit or lie down - in a fun, rewarding and comfortable way!


If you need any support with your dog to work out what’s going on in their world, drop me an email at help@avrilyoungdogtraining.com




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