Recognizing Stress in Your Dog Training

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Portrait of a purebred puppy argentinian dog barking in front of white backgroundStress is inevitable.

We all suffer from stress.

From where did I put my hair tie, to whether or not you know where the next meal is coming, all of these range on a scale of “stress”.

Most of us can prioritize.

For instance, I am not as concerned about my hair tie as I am about the fact that I have enough to eat and drink.

I try my best not to “freak out” about either, since only proactive work toward a goal can usually help with stress.

But we all know the person that “freaks out” about EVERYTHING or anything and just can’t function.

Dogs can be like this too.

Some dogs will rarely ever suffer from stress in their lives, they are the happy go lucky life livers and lovers (just like some people).

And, there are some dogs that are stressed by the sighting of their own shadow (these are the dogs that are fearful and unsure of everything in their environment that they don’t know).

And, much like people, there are dogs that fall somewhere in between!

Training

It used to be that any kind of dog training was stressful for the dog.

The dog was given a command (much of the time that he didn’t understand) and then he was physically yanked, poked and prodded until he assumed the correct position.

His dread came when he saw the leash, had it clipped and was issued a word he didn’t know.

He would do his best to concentrate and understand what was happening, but it was stressful.

Stress was the main ingredient.

And, to be truthful, it was stressful for the human to!

  • Shout command, make sure it is the right command, physically pop the leash and force 200# dog to submit.  Crawl on the ground, force dog into a down.
  • Correct dog when it looks away.
  • Correct dog when it doesn’t listen immediately.
  • Correct dog when he does something you don’t like.

Just typing it all out stresses me…

No wonder no one, including the dog (in most instances) hated “dog training”.

Dog training or dog training class was one to be avoided or to find any excuse to get out of it.

These “well trained dogs” hung their heads and behaved more like sad robots than the animated happy dogs of today’s obedience trials.

I think we can agree that it is more difficult to l

I Have to Remind Myself of ThisDepositphotos_26307249_xs

I have to remind myself of this negative kind of training, now, when I have students who aren’t nearly as excited about their “dog training” as I am.

After all, 20 years have ingrained the “dog trainer” in me!

Time spent with my dogs, teaching them something new or working on an existing behavior is my solace!

Running with my shoes laced up, an ear bud in one ear (I don’t believe women should ever run without being able to hear what is potentially coming up behind them), and a dog in heel position pounding the pavement with me is one of my happiest places.

But, I have to teach people that training can actually vanquish their stress if they do it right, and it can help their dogs feel better about life too!

Dog training should be full of games and fun!  Everyone should win!

I Concede….

I will say, that some worry wart dogs can get a little stressed even when you are doing positive reinforcement training.

The treat doesn’t come as fast as they think it should, or they get frustrated because they don’t know what you want… all of these and plenty of other things can cause stress. And, some of these stressors are actually important to learning (frustration can bring about other behaviors that we are looking for).

So what do you do if you have a dog that is the overly stressed kind?  Or seems to have trouble learning?

It is your JOB to become even more FUN!

When I am working with a nervous dog, it is up to me to vanquish his stress and to set the PAR-TAY tone for our training sessions.

Recognize the Signs

I think people want to drill, and drill and drill and dogs become confused and easily stressed.

It is our job to notice when our dogs are feeling stress and to relieve it to the best of our

  • Yawning (actually a sign of stress)
  • Scratching
  • Rolling
  • Sniffing
  • Wandering away
  • Looking away
  • Not adhering to obedience you know he knows

These are just a few of the signs that your dog is stressed.

Stress isn’t terrible, it is a part of life, but we learn better when stress is lessened.

So when we see these signs we struggle with the idea of MAKING HIM BEHAVE

And admitting that maybe we have pushed training a little too far that day!

Have I done it?happy-dog

YES!!!  YES, emphatically YES!

I don’t mean to; but I suppose I drill sometimes.

So when I get a dog that is usually listens but can’t seem to find his groove, it is time to consider more play and fun and less stress!

I teach a lot about eye contact and focus for more on that click here.    It is not an easy behavior to get and sustain on cue.

I find some of my clients literally angrily leering at their dogs.

Sometimes I wander my classes with a mirror, and I whip it out to see how they would feel at that exact moment.

Most don’t understand that they look like overgrown angry ogres to their dog.

It seems when humans intensify our faces get very serious.

In order to work successfully and healthily with our dogs, I think we need to break this.

  • Smile!
  • Wink!
  • Flirt
  • Party
  • Clap
  • Encourage
  • Be the life of the party.

And, when I pull out my mirror you will see a happy animated person, not a staring, serious creepy person.

That is not to say that obedience is not a serious matter, it is!

Having my dog come back to me when I call him away from running across a street when a car is coming is critical to my future happiness, and my dogs but my attitude also prompts him.

Dogs Like Happy

  • Dogs like happy people
  • Dogs like games
  • Dogs like fun
  • Dogs live in the moment
  • Dogs like to play
  • Dogs like to think
  • Dogs like to be challenged to do more and be better (if you do it in a fun way)
  • Dogs are always excited

So, if you feel signs of stress from your dog, or from yourself you need to interject some fun into your routine.

Let him catch a ball, let him sniff, let him be a dog.

Get on the ground with him and PLAY

And once the mood has lightened you can decide if there should be more training or more playing in this sessions future!

I almost always vote for more PLAY!

There are 28 Comments

  1. Ryan says:

    Very refreshing article. I gained a lot useful ideas from it. :)

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  2. Beverly says:

    Thank you – a good reminder of what it’s all about – fun!

    Useful bullet points too.

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  3. Bette Wood says:

    Hi, Thanks so much for the above info. I love the video you sent. My husband and I are watching it and relearning together.

    We have two dogs. One is about one and one half years old and the other is seven months, (male and female neutered). When we get down on the floor with the female, Peaches, she doesn’t know what to make of it and wags her tail but shies away. She is a wonderful, loving cock-a-poo and has been a bit shy since the beginning of our “knowing” her. She is a lot less shy now; is there anything we can do to help her with that? (I notice she wags her tail for lots of reason, .happiness, fear, and I think “regret.”

    Thanks for reading, Bette

    I

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    Minette Reply:

    play, play, play take them places, train with them and give them what they desire when they show good behavior

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  4. Mary says:

    I have an 8 yr old schnouser female I have had her about 6months, she was abused all her life so now she is afraid of everything all she does all day is lie in her bed, I take her out and let her run but as soon as we get in the house again she goes to her bed, I pick her up and lover her but she wants to get down. I am an 85yr old widow and I have had many dogs but never one like pepper help

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    Minette Reply:

    Not all dogs are social. I would find things she likes and teach her to play and interact with you when she eats.

    Just like a child, you have to find what motivates your own dog.

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  5. Kelly Bertrum says:

    Thank u. That was good info

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  6. Donna Woolverton says:

    A great little article! And a good reminder that dogs are all about fun. I want my dog to think that being with me is the BEST thing in life! So I’m almost always alert to signs of stress in her and especially in other dogs that we might meet on walks. (It’s funny how you can recognize those “owners” who seeem to create and maintain stress in their dogs – like holding the leash short and tight, holding the dog back and teaching them to be wary of everything that approaches. Sigh.)

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  7. My daughter has a beautiful cocker spaniel that they have not been able to successfully housebreak. She’s a very sweet dog but hyperactive. Folliows some commands. A real attention hog but loveable. She’s 3 now and I fear she may be past the point of no return with housebreaking. This negative behavior us frustrating particularly for her husband who mostly ignored the pup by now & he has little patienc. I’ve offered to take Minnie for an extended time to see if I can change her behavior but my daughter can’t seem to part with her that long. ‘Ve had many cockers in the past and the can be stubborn regarding this problem but persistence paid off. I’m now retired and gave the time to spend with her. When I do keep her she seems a little better. She gets along well with my golden, Mac. Help…I love this little dog.

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    Minette Reply:

    The truth is, only the pet owner can really do potty training. You could try at your home, but she will revert back when she is in her own home.

    This is a big thing in the industry. People pay thousands of dollars for potty training away at a kennel but when the dog returns they go back to the same behavior because the human doesn’t truly change.

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  8. Lou says:

    This was very helpful information. I adopted a 3year old Yorkiepoo. She is so timid and scared & I don’t know how to help her. She yawns a lot. She won’t play. She acts like she don’t know what a toy is. How can I help her learn to play. She is so attached to me she is on my heels every where I go.

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    Minette Reply:

    there is a search bar at the top of the page, search for my article on teaching your dog to play

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  9. jan says:

    Thank you — I am struggling with a rescue collie and working on barking.
    Phew. Need to have more fun, yes!

    [Reply]

  10. Frank says:

    Chet thanks for your great articles I love reading them I would love to order your training tapes but due to my income I am unable to afford them on my disability income .anyway I have two German Shepherd dogs six months old I cannot get them to stop jumping on my grandkids and other family members when they come over.treats don’t work any advise would be great. Thanks. Frank

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    Minette Reply:

    Read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/avoid-leash-dog-training/

    [Reply]

  11. greg says:

    altho I was aware of all this, I needed this reminder, thankyou

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  12. Geske Glahn says:

    usual common sense advice from you

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  13. Donna Sacra says:

    Your article was interesting in the way it helped me see things from my dog’s perspective. You were good at teaching what NOT to do, but why not also teach us what we SHOULD be doing as we train our dogs.? I have 4 Shelties, but only one of them attempts to obey me. I never scold or yell. So why can’t they learn?

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    Minette Reply:

    By teaching what not to do, also teaches what to do as the article states lower stress, play have fun and dogs will learn.

    I also make mine work for their meals.

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  14. Judy Fryer says:

    Everyone always says get down on the floor and play… or walk your dog… or…. whatever! What about those of us who are physically incapable of getting down on the floor, or even walking much… aren’t there other options beside hiring someone to do it for you? I would LOVE to hear of some creative ideas as my girl LOVES to play and run and I want to participate with her. Thanks.

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    Minette Reply:

    There is no reason you can’t teach her to come up to you. I have worked with many service dogs and it is just a matter of customizing your training techniques.

    Since I can’t see you and don’t know what you and your dog are capable of, perhaps a personal trainer coming out to the house would be a good idea at least once.

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  15. Erin says:

    My medium sized terrior mix has begun having accidents in the house. Its not all the time tho and I can’t figure out what triggers it when it happens. She goes for weeks without an accident but all of a sudden, it will start again. I walk her at the park and she even goes every time I go into the backyard with her. I did this morning and night. She has a doggy door so does not get crates when we are at work. I hate to have to start that but it is not isolated to when we are not home either.hubby gettimg impatient. Any tips for me?

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    Minette Reply:

    Yes, I recommend a vet visit to make sure this isn’t a health problem. Dogs get bladder infections and other things that cause a previously potty trained dog to have accidents!

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  16. Dennis Boudreau says:

    What a great site. Thanks for all of your insights and tips, you’ve brought back why owning and loving dogs are so rewarding.

    [Reply]

  17. Gypsy Ginchereau says:

    I have a 14 month old male GSD. He is what I call stubborn. I have to admit, he was doing well with his training and then I got very ill and did not work with him much for almost six months as I live alone and was practically bed ridden with health issues. I am much better know, but he is not…my bad I know.

    He is very mouthy and not a gentle dog, the multiple scars on my arms are evidence of that – not intentional but he is not gentle with his mouth.

    He yawns and refuses to look at me when I give him commands, such as sit, drop (down) or come unless I have a treat in my hand. He knows the commands, but only listens when he wants to. I am currently enrolled in the Companion Dog Training course and working on week one – eye contact and focus.

    I love him very much and would never consider giving him up, but need as much help as I can get to bring him back on track with training. My concern is that it is too late. Any suggestions or articles would be helpful.

    Have a Dynamic Day! Gypsy

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  18. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this! My Berner pup was showing these stress signs and I realized that it can’t be all about training, that she just wants to be a pup and have FUN! As soon as I smile and engage her she is so attentive and picks up the skills so quickly.

    I just ran into someone who saw a picture of my puppy and admitted she got so stressed with the puppy training she felt like she missed the puppy stage. Made me step back and remember to enjoy this stage. This article definitely reinforces that in the end they just want to have fun and be loved.

    [Reply]

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