By guest blogger Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KA
Photo credit: Robyn Arouty Photography
Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of those “keep calm” memes on the Internet. So it’s weird that this one, “keep calm and train your dog,” is stuck in my head. Maybe it’s stuck there because, well, it makes good sense. If you want your dog to calm down and stop acting crazy, then let’s start by calming ourselves down and thinking a little more clearly.
I work with families who have really freaked out dogs; some have dogs who bite. We often call them fearful and aggressive dogs. Here’s the thing. If you have one of these dogs, there’s a good chance you’re a bit freaked out too – afraid the dog will hurt someone, get you sued, pull you over in a mad rage at the end of the leash. And honestly, this dog might have driven you to be a bit angry and aggressive yourself. It happens.
Here’s the deal, though. Our behavior, human behavior, has everything to do with our dogs’ behavior. What we do and how we act affects their actions and choices. I won’t tell you to be calm, but I will share a bit of advice that has helped my clients and me.
Don’t buy into the freak out. When your dog is in one of his terror-filled or terrorizing moments, help him out. Do it quietly and without a lot of fuss. Don’t buy in. This is not the time to get upset or yell commands at him. Instead, guide your dog away from whatever has his nickers in a twist.
Have your dog’s back. A lot of trainers talk about being your dog’s leader. Not me. I’d rather think of myself as my dog’s advocate. I’m here to teach him what to do, especially what to do when he’s faced with something that makes him anxious or angry. It’s all about training skills, coping skills. Should he look to you for guidance? (Yes). Should he calmly walk away with you? (Yes). Should he remain relaxed and look at the person or dog without barking? (Yes). Are all those teachable skills? Yes. So, let’s get to it. Meanwhile, for the time being, steer clear of things you know upset your dog. There’s no value testing him to see how he will react. You already know. Just have his back on this, okay.
Teach your dog that everything’s cool. You aren’t freaking out. You’re teaching your dog useful life skills. And, you’re training with food, praise and play (I especially like clicker training). Just by being you, relaxed and smart, you’re teaching your dog that everything is cool. Every time something that used to be scary comes along, you start training in that chillaxed manner you’ve adopted. It’s all good. Look whose not going nuts – not your dog – not you.
So yeah, okay, keep calm and train your dog. How we act matters. Learn and train. Then, learn some more. It’s all doable. And heck, if you want to post the meme on your Facebook page, go for it. Get the t-shirt too.
Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA is a dog trainer in Houston, TX. He specializes in fearful and aggressive dogs.