Stop, Look, and Listen

I was out working with one of my clients one day and we were talking about handling her dog’s dog aggression when she said, “It’s like stop, look, and listen!” (She works in a school; I’m guessing this sort of thing comes up often with kids!)

It was an epiphany for me. A hilarious epiphany, as I immediately started laughing.

If you have a dog with an issue — any issue, whether or not it’s aggression related — these are excellent steps.

1. Stop. As soon as you realize there’s a trigger around, STOP WALKING. Do not get any closer to it until you’ve assessed the situation! So often I see people, most often with dog aggressive dogs, keep moving forward while they’re trying to check their dog, fix the collar, adjust their grip on the leash, check for treats — it’s too much! Especially if you’re using new techniques to get your dog to behave; now you have new techniques to remember on the move. Stop! Stop your feet so you can assess the problem and situation, figure out what to do, and react accordingly.

2. Look. Look at your dog. Looking at the problem isn’t going to tell you if your dog is going to react or not. In addition, dogs have a shared gaze; whatever you’re looking at, they’ll look at. If you look at a problem and you smell like fear or stress, all the good body language in the world isn’t going to help. Your dog will follow your gaze, smell your stress, and think, “AH! Mom/Dad is worried about that thing! I’LL DEAL WITH IT!” Not good. Look at your dog. See what they’re doing.

Now, I know that dog trainers are always saying, “Shoulders back, chest out, walk with confidence!” and part of “confidence” is typically “look where you’re going.” But sometimes, especially when you’re just learning, it’s more important to look at your dog, to see what they’re saying, and to respond accordingly. (When I’m walking with dogs and I see a problem, I glance at them, react accordingly, and when I’m confident I look PAST whatever issue is up ahead. I still don’t look at it, because I know my dog has a shared gaze.)

3. Listen. “Jenna,” I hear you say, “dogs don’t talk.” Maybe not with words, but boy, do they communicate! Dogs have extremely nuanced communication. Are you listening to what your dog is telling you? If your dog is getting over a phobia and they’re trying to be brave, you need to reinforce that. If they’re dealing with aggression and they’re being naughty, you need to be aware of it NOW and start addressing it before you get any closer. If they’re dealing with excitement and they’re trying SO HARD to hold it together (and you know in another minute they’re going to fail), get their attention at that moment so you can do whatever you need to do. Listen to your dog! You can’t guide your dog through life if you’re not aware of what she’s doing.

So next time you encounter a problem? Stop, look, and listen. It’s not just for schoolhouse emergencies!



2 thoughts on “Stop, Look, and Listen

  1. Hi Jenna,great advice-have 4 dogs -mini Schnauzer(Yogi),Aussie cattle dog mix (Aj),Black. and tan hound(Cash),Pitbull( Nathan)-alas the schnauzer and cattle dog bark at the slightest sound -my Pitty reacts by getting excited and trying to bite whichever dog is closest-usually my hound-believe this is called displacement aggression-using anti-bark collars (which is a last resort) has helped-would prefer behavior modification and herbal/natural therapies-any ideas-they are fed earthborn dry w/ home cooked chicken,kale,blueberries and oatmeal added-any suggestions would be appreciated-Beth Eldred

    Date: Mon, 1 Dec 2014 19:54:45 +0000 To:

    • Hi, Beth!

      Herbal/natural therapies won’t work unless it’s anxiety based (and most barking isn’t anxiety based — it’s usually boredom based!). Without seeing a video (you’re welcome to send one; I’ll put it on the blog and explain what’s going on and how to fix it) I can’t tell what’s causing the barking, but I can give you at least one no-harm idea as to how to solve it!

      When the dogs start barking, choose whoever started first and just focus on them. Begin hissing and keep hissing until they stop barking and turn away from whatever they’re barking at. It has to be constant, or they won’t know why they’re being reprimanded. (This is your bridge. See more on bridges on this post: Now, as you hiss, grab a squirt bottle. It should be on “stream” and just have water in it. It’s okay if you have to go to another room to get it, just keep hissing! Come back, and squirt that one dog who started it until they not only stop barking, but turn away. If others are barking, start squirting them. Pretty quick what you should get are dogs who respond quickly, and eventually don’t bark at all at non-issues!

      Finally, Nathan may be redirecting onto the littler dogs, or he might be “helping” you scold them. Either way, grab him when it starts and haul him out with you to find the squirt bottle. As the little guys stop barking, he’ll stop redirecting! If you come back into the room with him and he’s trying to get to them to “help,” start squirting him. Pitties generally dislike squirt bottles, so it should work pretty well!

      Squirt bottles are great because they don’t add or increase anxiety; it’s more of a startle reaction — much like we would have upon being squirted!


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