Leaving and returning: how not to create seperation anxiety

Separation anxiety (a dog being stressed out when you leave) is something that a lot of people deal with. In puppies, I would go so far to say it’s normal, and important that they learn that just because you leave doesn’t mean you aren’t coming back. (That’s true with adults dogs, too, but most puppies go through it.)

So here we go: when you leave and return is when you have the best shot of creating, or not creating, separation anxiety.

When you leave the house, give your dog something good. This could be breakfast, some treats, a bone. I’ve handed my dogs toys that are laying around. (They look at me like I’ve gypped them.) It doesn’t need to be fabulous, just okay. Then, leave the house. At most you can say something like, “I’ll be back later!” but don’t make a fuss over it. If you’re upset at leaving, your dogs will pick up only that you’re upset but not why, and they’ll be upset as well. If you act like it’s a non-event, they’ll believe it’s a non-event.

The harder part is returning home. Everyone wants to greet their dogs and get kisses, but it’s important to remember what’s best for your dog. If you act like coming home was a big deal, and you reward their hyper behavior, they’ll start to believe that hyper behavior will bring you home. Hyper behavior turns into anxious behavior rapidly.

So when you come home, stay calm. Put down your purse or your wallet, take off your jacket, get yourself a glass of water. Wait until your dog is wiggly but not manic and then, calmly, say hello. My dogs get pets, ear rubs, and they give me happy wiggles and kisses. They don’t need to be totally calm, but they need to be on the calm end of happy.

Now what your dog is learning is that you’re happy to see them, but returning is still a non-event and, more importantly, what will get rewarded is happy, calm behavior.

If your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety, congratulations! I’d still do this, just to make sure it never develops. If they do, start with this (and the other tips under the anxiety tag), and it will begin to help.

Jenna

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Dealing with Human Anxiety

As you’re dealing with your dog’s aggression, anxiety, or over-submissiveness out in the world, our anxiety as humans can increase — especially if you know each dog-dog or dog-human interaction may not go perfectly! We remember what our dogs have done in the past, and those memories re-play themselves.

Dogs pick up on our stress and anxiety, and our stress and anxiety can even get in the way of our training. If it’s a miserable experience for you even when things go well, then it’s unlikely you’re going to continue training.

So how do we lessen the anxiety for people? I don’t know. I’d have to be a therapist! But these are things that work for me, and things that have worked for some of my clients.

Visualization

I visualize things going well. But I also visualize things going horribly, and me somehow saving the day so it all ends well, anyway. This re-frames each experience so that, good or bad, I end feeling confident. Visualizing is one of the best things you can do to help yourself be able to stay calm in the actual moment. With very anxious clients, I suggest they visualize (and write it down if they’re amenable!) at least daily.

Breathing

Sounds silly, I know, but I can’t tell you how many people forget to breathe when they’re thinking about what their dog may or may not do in the next twenty feet. On a physiological level, when you hold your breath your heartbeat picks up and your muscles have to work harder. It increases stress! (It also stresses out your dog.)

Furthermore, if you stop and tune in to taking deep, slow breaths, it fractures your hyper-focus on what might happen, because you’re also having to focus on breathing.

Stop

You can always stop. I can’t tell  you how empowering it is once you realize that, hey, you don’t have to keep walking forward! Any time I’m feeling a little unsure, uncertain, stressed, out of control (physically, emotionally, or mentally) I stop walking. I often even back out of the way of whatever is approaching, taking the dog with me. I take stock of what’s going on, what I might need to do to solve it, re-organize myself, and start again. Half the time, by the time I’ve done all this the problem has actually resolved itself.

Talk to my dog

Not to the person and other dog approaching. No, I talk to my dog. I say things like, “We can get through this,” and “hoo-whee, this is hard but we can do it!” Talking forces you to breathe, and gives you another focus. If my dog is anxious, then I’m going to talk as if everything is fun. My words might indicate my stress, but my tone is light.

And finally,

Focus on my dog

If I’m working with a dog who gets super submissive and rolls over to show her belly to another dog, then sometimes gets stressed and snappy when they take her up on her offer and sniff her too much, then I’m going to focus on talking to my dog, keeping my tone light and happy, taking her away when she starts to roll over — probably trotting backwards with her, then trotting forwards with her to see the strange dog again, on our feet instead of her back. But I’m going to focus on my dog, and her body language. Is her spine relaxed, indicating a positive mood? Is her tail tucking, indicating she’d like to leave now? Are the whites of her eyes showing, indicating she’s stressed and we should leave the situation? It doesn’t matter what my dog has done before. What matters is what my dog is doing this instant. To know that, I have to watch her body language. It’s the easiest way for them to communicate!

Other general ways to lessen human anxiety are things like meditation, relaxation, quiet time for yourself — the usual things you read about! And while you’re doing that, think about how awesome your dog is going to do at the next formerly-difficult situation. It helps.

Jenna

Building Confidence Around People: timid dogs 2

Last week I started with this:

Dogs are like people: they’re born with a leaning towards confidence or timidity (or any number of other things), and then their experiences layer over the top of that to decide how they will be later in life.

Also, much like people, young dogs often go through a fearful phase. I’ve seen it hit most often between six and eight months, but can happen before or after that as well. How you deal with timidity, in either a young dog or a rescue, can make a big difference in how they feel about the world, about trusting you, and their confidence levels.

One of the scariest things is, to many owners’ surprise, strangers. Whether your dog is an adolescent going through a phase, or a rescue overcoming previous trauma (emotional or physical), there’s some basic things you can do to help them dramatically.

The basic steps are these:

  1. Stop them from fleeing.
  2. Protect them from the “monster.”
  3. Gently reward bravery.

There’s two ways in which timidity shows itself: flight or fight. Now, I’m going to assume that you’re dealing with timidity/confidence with people issues, and not fear aggression. Regardless of whether your dog falls into the flight or fight category, the basic steps are the same. How much we correct and where, however, differs. So, two case studies! (You know how I love my case studies!) This week we’ll look at Max, a fleer, and next week we’ll look at Tildi, a fighter.

It’s now “next week” and time to look at how to work with a fighter!

Tildi: Fight

There’s a big difference between fear aggression and timidity. Fear aggression has already escalated to a dog that’s lunging forward with clear threat; timidity-fight is going to be a dog that barks from a distance, or is just starting to try and scare a monster away with little pushes or hops forward.

Tildi is only six months old, and she’s in this latter category. If she were with a big group of dogs and she barked at something in alarm, they would first check out what she was barking at. If they saw it was nothing dangerous and she, upon seeing their disinterest, stopped barking, they would reward her with grooming and play. If she ignored their disinterest and continued barking, they would often either move on and abandon her (at least until she decided to catch up!), or they would nip at her until she was quiet, and then reward her. In this way, young dogs can learn what they should and should not be alarmed about.

There are — well, many — theories about what to do in Tildi’s situation (barking from a distance), but one major one. The major one says you should do the same thing you’d do in a flight case, but start from a greater distance and move closer slowly. I think this is great in theory, but in practicality it’s almost impossible. You can’t control if people on your walk are moving toward you, and it’s very difficult to set up enough strangers coming to your house and staying for a long enough time to train in this manner. So, this is what I do instead.

Step one: stop them from fleeing. This really isn’t much different; we put Tildi on a leash to keep her from running away and avoiding the problem.

Step two: protect them from the “monster.” In Tildi’s case, she was protecting herself from the monster by barking at them and trying to scare them away. (This can rapidly become fear aggression, especially if it works.) So first we had to tell her that she’s no longer allowed to try and scare them away. If she starts barking at someone, we can pull her away on her leash, squirt her with a squirt bottle, or bump her away with our knee/shin/side-of-our-foot. In Tildi’s case, bumping worked best. We had to face her and bump her about twenty feet back initially, but as she started to “get it” that became dramatically less. (Once dogs realize you’re more persistent than they are, they start giving up quicker. Usually you can do this in one fifteen minute session with someone acting as the provocateur.) If you use a leash to pull your dog away, remember you must loosen the leash for them to learn anything. If they’re still pulling on the leash to get closer, they haven’t learned to stop barking/hopping/intimidating!

Once we can get a dog to stop barking, then we can protect them from the monster. In Tildi’s case, this meant giving her treats when she hung back quietly, and praising her when she decided to leave when she was frightened rather than barking when she was frightened.

The downside of this step (and the reason many people don’t like it), is that while we’ve eradicated the bad behavior (barking/hopping/etc), we haven’t created a single lick of confidence, and your dog might be slightly more fearful because they now associate people with getting squirted/bumped/etc. Now, however, we can start protecting. Now Tildi’s owner can say, “Yes, Jenna, come in! No, you may NOT touch Tildi.” From here, we can build the trust that Tildi’s mom will protect her, and from there, we build up Tildi’s confidence just as we did with “flight” dogs. (See last week.) In my experience, the downside isn’t enough to prolong the timidity around people. In fact, because dogs who are willing to try and chase off a monster usually have more confidence than dogs who aren’t, these dogs still seem to come around very rapidly, much faster than “flight” dogs.

Step three: gently reward bravery. In a fight dog, this starts with, “You didn’t bark this time! So wonderful and brave!” and then continues to, “you stayed closer!” “You tried to sniff!” “You took a treat!” and so on. From here, it’s once again the same as a “flight” dog!

There is a final step you can take, if your dog is pretty good around people, but you’d like them to be better. I mentioned it briefly, but it deserves it’s own note. Once your dog is willing to take treats and sometimes be petted, you can have strangers ask your dog to sit, shake, high five, or anything else you like. (Anything that involves laying down is hard for these dogs, as it puts them in an even more vulnerable position. Hard things should be avoided, as they create more stress.) This gets your dog happily engaging with strangers, thinking about something other than whether or not the stranger is a monster, and doing fun bonding stuff.

One last note: if you’re apparently afraid to touch a stranger, why should your dog feel safe getting petted? Start shaking hands and, where appropriate, giving hugs. You can model brave behavior for your dog, and that will help, too!

Jenna

Building Confidence Around People: Timid dogs 1

Dogs are like people: they’re born with a leaning towards confidence or timidity (or any number of other things), and then their experiences layer over the top of that to decide how they will be later in life.

Also, much like people, young dogs often go through a fearful phase. I’ve seen it hit most often between six and eight months, but can happen before or after that as well. How you deal with timidity, in either a young dog or a rescue, can make a big difference in how they feel about the world, about trusting you, and their confidence levels.

One of the scariest things is, to many owners’ surprise, strangers. Whether your dog is an adolescent going through a phase, or a rescue overcoming previous trauma (emotional or physical), there’s some basic things you can do to help them dramatically.

The basic steps are these:

  1. Stop them from fleeing.
  2. Protect them from the “monster.”
  3. Gently reward bravery.

There’s two ways in which timidity shows itself: flight or fight. Now, I’m going to assume that you’re dealing with timidity/confidence with people issues, and not fear aggression. Regardless of whether your dog falls into the flight or fight category, the basic steps are the same. How much we correct and where, however, differs. So, two case studies! (You know how I love my case studies!) This week we’ll look at Max, a fleer, and next week we’ll look at Tildi, a fighter.

Max: Flight

Step one: stop him from fleeing. Max was timid of people, not because of any prior abuse, but simply because he’s a very timid creature without much inborn confidence. His “mother,” wisely, got on top of this as soon as she saw it might be a problem. The first thing we did was to put him on a leash, so he couldn’t run away completely. Some running is great; flight is always better than fight! But dogs are notorious for running from a problem and, therefore, never learning that it’s not a problem after all! We wanted to limit how far he could run, so we put him on a leash so he couldn’t leave the room.

Step two: protect him from the “monster.” While he might be on a leash, we don’t want him feeling cornered or pressured. If Max wants to run away to the end of his leash and hide from the stranger in the room, that’s completely fine. By simply being in the room and catching the stranger’s scent and seeing that the stranger isn’t eating him, he’s learning that there’s nothing to fear.

In fact, our job is to make sure no one touches, talks to, or otherwise pressures him! The more they pretend he’s not there, the more likely he is to feel safe enough to check them out. The more we keep him safe, the more chances he’ll take. As he sees that we protect him and never put him in a situation that ends badly, he’ll begin to believe he can trust us. If he trusts us and knows we’ll help him out and support his choice to escape, then he can take risks — like sniffing the monster or taking a treat — because he knows that if something happens, we’ll step in to help him. We need this basis of trust to build confidence from! (Note: if your dog ends up in a situation that ends badly, don’t panic! It’ll be a little setback, but just move on from it. Your dog will move on, too.)

Here is one of the places were many, many people go wrong: they try to encourage, and even push, a young or timid dog into a stranger’s hands to see that petting is nice. Oftentimes, even if your dog eventually sees it’s okay, the experience will still be tinged with stress and anxiety. They may remember the stress and anxiety, rather than the end result of petting! Thus, the following are reinforced in their mind: They cannot trust you, because you pushed them at the monster and they had no choice, and their fears were correct — it was difficult and frightening.

If, instead, we tell our dogs, “You don’t have to be petted or deal with this human; you just can’t run away entirely,” then they get the chance to see that nothing bad happens, they’re supported, and the stress levels stay low.

Step three: Gently reward bravery. We don’t want Max to feel pushed into engaging, so we give him time to decide on his own. Bravery is always measured against his standard. At first, it was simply going to the end of his leash and being calm enough to sit, instead of stand. We told him how wonderful and brave he was, and gave him treats. Then, it was sitting behind his mom instead of at the end of his leash. Again, we told him how brave he was. Soon he was sniffing peoples’ feet (head down = not sure they want to engage, so we told people not to touch him yet) and then taking treats from people (life started to get better!) and very quickly thereafter, petting. We did not encourage further bravery, just rewarded what he was willing to give us.

Now, in Max’s specific case, while he grew much better with people outside the house, there was one person inside the house that still frightened him. We invited that person in, and did a little extra with step two. After just letting them sit in the same room for a while, when Max relaxed we had his mom (holding his leash) sit beside the “monster,” bringing him closer as well. When he relaxed about that, we had his mom and the monster walk around, with Max trailing behind them. When he became comfortable doing that, the monster took the leash and, without looking or acknowledging Max, walked around trailing Max behind him. When Max finally relaxed again, the monster started giving him treats… and Max finally realized it wasn’t a monster after all! Sometimes, extra steps are necessary. Those steps can include the ones above, or a “monster” asking a dog to sit and rewarding with a treat (which gets the dog to engage in a more positive manner), or you making a happy fuss over the “monster” yourself, so your dog sees how much you like it and aren’t afraid of it, and many other techniques. You take it at the dog’s pace, and remember that it isn’t always linear progress!

Next week: Fight!

Jenna

Excitement Barking: 2

Last week I talked about excitement barking, what it is, why we don’t want it, and how to fix it using positive reinforcement. But sometimes, you need the dog to stop barking NOW or you’re going to get evicted. So, how to bring the energy levels down faster? Let’s see…

 Adversive training method
The goal here is to bring the excitement levels down fast, and make your dog understand that barking isn’t acceptable.

Sometimes you’ll hear people (myself included) use the terms “correct” or, if they’re trying to make it sound bad, “punish.” This is adversive training: we bring in an adverse stimulus to make the dog stop. My favorite adversive tool when a dog is barking from excitement is a squirt bottle.

There’s two rules with a squirt bottle:

  1. If you pick it up, use it. If you don’t, your dog will think, “I can keep being rotten until Mom gets the squirt bottle and aims it at me! Then I can get out of my bad behavior just by looking sad.” If your dog looks pathetic only after you pick up the squirt bottle, squirt them once for good measure so they learn to stop before you pick up the squirt bottle, that once you have it it’s too late to apologize.
  2. When you squirt your dog, you keep squirting until they turn around and leave. If they don’t leave, they’re learning they can withstand a squirt. If they don’t realize they can leave — for instance, they’re sad and pathetic but not leaving — then while still squirting, take your hand and nudge them away. Then stop squirting. They quickly learn that leaving will get the squirting to stop. (This, additionally, helps them to learn that they can leave to avoid a bad situation. If they know they can leave, they don’t need to fight!)

The beauty of a squirt bottle is that it’s surprising. They don’t add noise and therefore aren’t missed under the barking (which, sometimes, noises like Pet Correctors are), and they don’t increase anxiety. Since part of the problem with being over excited is that it can increase anxiety, we don’t want to further that along with a correction that will also increase anxiety.

The downside is that you’ll have a wet dog. But, hey, better than a barking fiend!

But say you don’t have a squirt bottle or your hands are full or you have beautiful hardwood floors you don’t want to ruin with water?

Wellllll…

The I Do Not Have Time For This method

Get yourself a citronella spray bark collar. For most dogs, the small dog version works just fine. I recommend a brand that says it only reacts both when the dog barks AND it vibrates from barking (otherwise another dog barking can set it off). These days they run $40-$60 on Amazon, and they’re worth every penny. Much like a squirt bottle, it sprays a mist under the dog’s jaw, surprising them into not barking. Unlike an electric collar, they’re not painful, don’t create anxiety, and they actually tend to work better. You can get scentless sprays, too, in case you can’t stand citronella. (I’d recommend getting an extra can of refill spray if you have more than one dog.)

When you first use a citronella collar, it may work brilliantly. Or it may not seem to work at all. Keep using it! The thing with the spray collars is that they’re annoyance training, as opposed to painful or truly scary. As the dogs come down from their excitement high, they’ll notice the spraying and stop, confused and a little offput. This will happen sooner and sooner, and before you know it your dog won’t be barking unless it really is important. If your dog is barking to go out with you for a walk, then just stand there and wait for them to stop barking, and let the collar do its work.

What is the collar really doing? Breaking up the over excitement with confusion. Hooray!

Important: try and get some giggles out of the very confused look on your dog’s face. This is always entertaining to me. In fact, take a video and send it on over, would you? I can always use a laugh!

(I know, I know, I’m terrible. But the looks on their little faces are still hilarious as they try to find the source of the spray!)

Finally, oftentimes dogs who are excitement barking are just that: excited. But sometimes they’re bored. Make sure that your dog doesn’t need to find excitement in its life. Provide that excitement through regular exercise, fetch, treat balls, bones, fun toys, and petting. All those will help, too!

Jenna

Excitement Barking: 1

Does your pup lose his or her mind when you pick up the leash? Put on your shoes? Say “Ready to go for a drive?” Or, for that matter, when a good friend comes up the walk? Welcome to excitement barking.

Roughly 95% of dog language is a visual language, spoken through the tip of an ear or the slant of an eye. But when your dog really needs someone to know something NOW, or just can’t stand how fabulous life is (or is about to be), they start barking.

The thing with excitement barking is that we need to bring the excitement levels down.

“But why?” I hear you cry. (I hear others of you cry, “Yes PLEASE.”) Well, because aside from being a nuisance, it can actually increase your dog’s anxiety (and that of the dogs around it). In addition, excitement barking isn’t a natural state in dogs, and other dogs get disturbed by the craziness of the excited dog. If they don’t join in (and sometimes even if they do join in), they can become aggressive toward the overly excited dog.

“Whaaaaat?” I hear you cry. “That makes no sense. Why would excitement create anxiety?”

People do this thing where we go, “I’m content. I’m happy! I’m excited! I’m so excited! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER! WHEEEEEE!!!” But dogs do this: “I’m content. I’m happy! I’m excited! I’m so excited! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER! OH MY GOD  I FEEL WEIRD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!”

And then comes the anxiety. Make sense? No? You can go back and look at the body language posts. Find the ones for stress and anxiety, and you’ll see the same look on dogs that are “overly excited.” Don’t trust me; trust what your dog is telling you.

So the big trick with excitement barking is to bring down the levels of excitement. There are a hundred and one ways to do this! We’re going to look at a few over the next couple of weeks, with going for a walk as the excitement trigger.

Note: I’m assuming you’re using a collar. If you’re using a harness or a collar you put on just for walking, it’s the same thing, but you start with the harness/collar instead of leash.

  1. The positive reinforcement method.
    This relies on teaching your dog something that they can focus on instead of getting over excited. I do this with most of my walking dogs in a minor way: we all sit to put our leashes on, because it gives them a way to learn to contain and control themselves. Likewise, you could teach your dog to go lay in his or her bed when a friend comes over, or lay down before getting in the car.

Cash verbally explodes whenever he knows we’re going for a walk. So, before I mention a walk, I grab several treats and call him over to where I keep the leashes. Before I touch a leash, I ask him to sit, and give him a  treat. Now I have his focus. If he also tends to physically explode (dancing, jumping, twisting, etc) I might, at this point, gently grab his collar to keep some control. Now I’m going to reach for my leash.

EXPLOSION OCCURS. My dog is going to try and meet my energy levels, so I’m going to stay as calm and quiet as possible. The more frustrated or in a rush I get, the worse my dog gets. I keep hold of my dog’s collar, hang the leash over my shoulder so I have one hand free, get a treat out of my pocket, and try to catch my dog’s eye. Now I wait for my dog to calm down. I’m going to say, “Sit,” quietly. When they finally calm enough to succeed, I’m going to give them the treat. Now I’m going to clip the leash on their collar.

EXPLOSION OCCURS AGAIN. If I didn’t get the leash on, I’m going to stop, stay calm, and go back to the above step. I’m probably going to straighten up as much as I can (with my hand still on the collar) to distance myself from my dog. And wait.

But if I DID get the leash on, then I’m going to straighten up and distance myself, stay calm, and take a breath. I’m also going to lift up gently on the leash. My goal is to feel my dog’s weight. If my dog isn’t leaping but is twirling and barking, then his or her front feet won’t come off the ground. All I’m trying to do is lift their head slightly, to rock the weight back on their haunches and get them to sit again. If my dog is leaping, then I might have to lift a little higher. I DO NOT want my dog’s weight hanging off their neck, so if I have to lift higher, I’m going to lift up so they can balance on their back feet and take their own weight. When they’re done dancing you’ll feel it; as they sink, go with them.

The goal here is to get your dog to sit again with the physical reminder of lifting. I don’t want to bend down and push on their hind end, because it gets me too close and touching them, which is a reward.

I can, however, grab another treat, get my dog to focus, and ask them to sit again. Either lifting gently on the collar or asking verbally will work; use whichever one works best for your dog. Once your dog is sitting, give him or her a treat. Now we open the door.

EXPLOSION: THE THIRD.

Stop! Wait. Lift or ask your dog to sit. When they do, give them a treat. Take a step forward.

EXPLOSION: THE REVENGE.

Stop! Wait. Lift or ask your dog to sit. When they do, give them a treat.

Typically after you’ve stopped a few times, your dog has gotten a handle on their over-excitement and will stop barking. Then you can actually leave the house.

“Heyyyyy, waitaminute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t this to get them to stop barking way back when we leashed them?”

Yes… and no. We’re trying to get them to contain and control themselves even when they’re excited. From that place comes quiet. Your dog may not actually stop barking for weeks. If they get to a point where they’re sitting but still barking, then you simply withhold the leash or treat and stand quietly until they stop. Then you reward by taking the next step in getting ready to leave, or giving them a treat. At first, we don’t ask them to stop barking; it’s too big a leap. We ask them to start controlling themselves by sitting when they’re exited.

“Okay,” I hear you say. “But my dog doesn’t flip out at the leash. He flips out at the arrival of my spouse coming home.”

So, we find another something to get them to focus on. It might be recall, or sit, or lay in bed. In any case, you’re going to ask them to focus first, give them a treat, and if they need it, you’re going to physically show them what you want. Just like we lifted or cued to get the dog to sit, we can catch them and put them in bed, then reward for it.

This method can take a bit of time (usually about a month to see real results), but it’s a gentle, force-free method. I like this method, in fact. Sometimes, though, you have twin babies and you need the barking to stop YESTERDAY. So, next week we’ll deal with that!

Jenna

Human training for anxiety

Dog training isn’t all about training dogs. Quite often, it’s about training people as well.

Here’s the situation: your dog has attacked other dogs/people/pulled you over/yanked on you/etc. Now, whenever you see a situation in which your dog might react, you get stressed. You have anxiety over your dog’s behavior, and consequently, your dog is more likely to react because they can see you’re anxious about something, and they’re going to help! Nice of them, isn’t it?

These are the anti-stress/relaxation techniques that I use, and tell my clients to use, whenever we’re working with an especially difficult case of anxiety.

Daily activities (to be done every day):

1. Visualize. We know for sure it works in building muscle and playing sports, and most people believe it helps in everything else, too. When I’m dealing with something anxiety provoking, I visualize it going well. I also visualize it going poorly, and the way in which I would awesomely and miraculously re-gain control and end everything right. There are a whole lot of guides on how to visualize, so I’ll leave you to follow one of those links.
A warning: one study found that visualizing brought the same emotional satisfaction as actually DOING it, and therefore people were less likely to act. Act!

2. Police and replace negative thought patterns. If you find yourself thinking, “My dog will NEVER be able to walk nicely past another dog like that!” stop and think of three positive things about your dog. “My dog is doing better today than yesterday,” “There was that one time last week when my dog walked nicely past another dog,” “My dog can walk nicely past other dogs across the street,” “I’m trying new things, and me and my dog are improving.” Even, “My dog is ADORABLE.” Focus on the good, and start trying to weed out the bad. While there isn’t any scientific bases for this, I do find that if people start focusing on what’s going right, they’re more able to relax and more hopeful. If I constantly correct my dogs, I end up in a bad mood. If I correct while also praising for good behavior, then I feel like my dogs are pretty awesome!

Occasional activities (choose one each day):

1. Tense/relax. This is actually a relaxation technique taught to me by a physical therapist years ago. We tend to carry some tension in our muscles (shoulders, neck, lower back) when we’re, well, tense. It becomes so common that we don’t even notice we’re tense! So, purposefully tense a muscle group. Let’s say calves. Purposefully tense your calves, count to ten, and then relax them. The contract between tensing and relaxing gives your body a chance to see what relaxed actually feels like, and then to relax! Not only does it help you start to physically relax, but it feels pretty good, too. I do it all the time; when I’m driving, when I’m seated, when I’m watching a movie. If I notice I’m rolling my head or doing other tight-muscle behaviors, I’ll tense that muscle group and let it relax again. Now, say it with me: Ahhhh!

2. Breathe deeply (and tense/relax). We all know this, right? Breathe in slowly through the nose, and out through the mouth. The goal is to release tension (again) and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. You can do this in conjunction with tensing/relaxing, too. See something that will trigger your dog? Take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly, relaxing as you do so. If your dog is paying attention, they’ll do better at staying relaxed, too. If they aren’t paying attention and you have to correct, you’re far more likely to keep your calm — which will keep from feeding their energetic state!

3. Meditate or do yoga. I hate both of these. Slow down? Stop thinking? PISH! But I can’t deny that when I do it, I stay calmer and more centered overall. If you have a dog that’s really trying your patience, maybe it’s time for some you-care. The kind you don’t necessarily like, but is awfully good for you.

The lazy, impatient person’s guide to meditation: Set your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier. When it goes off, hit snooze. Grumble. Sit up. Curse a little. Take a breath. Imagine the air molecule you just inhaled whizzing around your lungs. Remember all the crap you have to do today. Wish you had some coffee. Bring your mind back tot he molecule, and exhale. Imagine it whooshing out. Did you turn off the oven? Well, it was last on days ago, so if you didn’t you’re dead, anyway. Inhale and think of air molecule. Exhale and imagine it zipping around. You’re bored of the air molecule. Your foot itches. Inhale and imagine it getting SUCKED into your blood stream. Exhale and follow the molecule’s progress to your heard. Is that your dog whining? Surely not. Think about the air molecule. The alarm goes off! Huzzah, you’re done!

Or, The lazy, impatient person’s guide to yoga: Find a spot where your feet will not slip. Get your iPad, laptop, or notebook out. Search “Sun salutation” on youtube (or click here). Sit and drink your coffee while watching it with one eye. Finally decide you should probably do this, too. Click on this person so you can do it without stopping constantly. Wish you were that flexible. Wonder where they find all these tiny, tiny yoga people. Do it six times. Smile at the way your dog wags when you go into downward dog. Decide you want someone with a different voice — okay, now you have to search for it yourself. 😉

Things like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises and the like may not seem like they’re help you when you hit your dog’s trigger, but in fact they will. Overall lower your body’s stress levels, teaching your brain how to react in an emergency (visualization), and re-coding calming behaviors into your neurons means that when a bad moment arises, it won’t be as bad as it was before. It’ll especially be better if you remember your deep breathing exercises in the middle of it!

Now go, and be calm!

Jenna