Do we need to manage our dog's behaviour, or should we let them figure it out?
Give your dog time, space and support, and allow them to access and process their environment.
When we have a dog who is a little unsure or anxious around people and other dogs, we often feel the need to jump in and stop them from barking, growling or making a fuss when they see another person or dog, particularly when out on walks.
But when our dogs do this, they are simply communicating how they feel in that moment - even though it may not feel comfortable or appropriate for us in that situation.
Do we jump in too quickly?
It’s a natural reaction for us to say ‘no!’, ‘stop that!’, ‘enough!’ Or, we might quickly try to distract them with toys and treats. However this does not give the dog much information. They just get that we are upset with them, or that we are being weird by changing the context of the situation. You see, their perception of what’s going on or how they feel about that other person or dog can be hugely different to ours.
So, here is something different you can try:
Kneel down beside your dog, hold them gently (if they are comfortable with this), and let them watch the person or other dog from a very large distance away, so that both you and your dog feel safe. Allow them to look, listen, take in all the information and process it. You can support them by taking a few calming deep breaths and reassure your dog by talking to them in a quiet, calm voice, and let them know that they are free to leave the situation at any time they wish.
Observe your dog's body language for clues. If the distance is great enough and the dog is not too stressed, they will generally bark for a short while, interchanged with some watching and observing and perhaps some air scenting as they try to gather information that may be coming from that direction on a breeze. They may even change position and start to sniff the ground a bit. This is all totally normal for the dog as they access the situation and process the information that they are receiving through all their senses, in their own time. The whole process would probably not take longer than 90 seconds.
You will see that your dog is ready to move off, when their body has relaxed and they are no longer focused on the thing that they were concerned about.
By giving our dogs the time, space and choice, to experience and understand their world from a safe and secure place, with our support, they can build their confidence as well as their trust in us as their guide and partner.
I invite you to step into your dog’s world and discover what they might be experiencing.
Teach your dog, show your dog, support your dog, don’t just tell them what they shouldn’t be doing.
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