I couldn't imagine living without a dog. Every morning when I wake up I am greeted by 3 smiling doggy faces. Okay, so the reason why they're smiling is because they know that seeing me equals breakfast, but at least they're happy to see me. And seriously, it feels great coming home from work and being greeted by their wiggly butts. If having a dog was as simple as feeding them and getting greeted by them then I think peoples' lives would be less stressful. Yes, owning a dog can ease your stress, but sometimes it can increase your stress.
Patience is incredibly important when dealing with another species of animal. Often times we wish our dogs would do what we ask the first time we ask. And for a lot of people, they wish that their dog would do it the first time, and do it solely because they asked their dog to do so. It's important to remember that dogs are animals and don't speak the native tongue of us humans. The majority of the time when we are asking our dogs to do something, all they hear is, "blah blah, blah blah blah." I know this to be true because sometimes I'll ask V to do something, like, "go lie down." He will look at me and not do it. I will then say, "V, blah blah blah" and he will go lie down. This is a perfect example of dogs having no idea what these words coming out of our mouths mean. For the record, we can introduce verbal cues to dogs and they can understand them. What I'm saying though, is that we as humans have a tendency to speak full sentences to our dogs and just expect them to understand what we are saying. Usually they don't respond the first time which then results in the phrase being repeated with a little more seriousness behind it. Humans typically get impatient in these circumstances. A couple takeaways here:
1. Dogs are just like any other animal. They don't do things unless their is motivation involved. We can motivate our dogs to do things by showing them what we'd like them to do, and providing great consequences. A dog will not comply with a human's requests just because it's coming from a human. That human needs to either provide good consequences, or bad consequences, both of which can create motivation.
2. Take the time to teach your dog cues, whether it's a verbal cue, or a hand signal and provide things your dog enjoys as payment. This will help your dog understand what you'd like him to do, and will keep your stress level down because you won't have to ask multiple times. With the "blah blah blah" example I gave above, I really should have just ask V to go to his "place." His place is his bed. This is a cue that we've practiced a ton and there's a very high probability that he will respond in the way that I'd like. But I'm human and I'm not perfect. Hence me saying, "V, go lie down." Honestly, it's an old habit of mine that I am trying to break. Don't they say the old habits die fast? Pshhh.
If you're sharing your home with a dog then you're sharing your home with an animal. Yes, that may be a blatantly obvious statement, but I feel that a lot of people forget that dogs are animals. Often times we anthropomorphize our dogs. We think of them as another human in the family. While V, Villere and Rosa are a part of our family, and we do refer to them as our kids, we remember that they're dogs. This helps us stay less stressed. Here are 5 things you can do with your dog to lower your stress level:
1. Meet your dog's physical and mental needs:
Just like you have needs, so does your dog. A lot of dogs will benefit from a daily walk, a fetch session, and a few training sessions throughout the day. Most dogs spend 23 + hours inside your house each day. That can be pretty boring considering that if they were wild, they'd be spending 20+ hours looking for food. While age and breed do play a factor in this, try to get your dog out on a daily walk and try to do at least one 10 minute training session per day. This will help meet your dog's needs.
2. Teach your dog appropriate behaviors:
Screaming "No!" when your dog is doing something you don't approve isn't the best option. We can teach out dogs behaviors that we'd like them to do. "Leave it" is a great option instead of shouting "no". Remember that these appropriate behaviors that we'd like them to do must have consequences that they like. If you'd like your dog to hold a down stay on his bed while you're eating dinner, make sure he gets little food rewards for staying in place.
3. Use appropriate equipment:
If you have a child, you probably aren't leaving home without bringing cheerios, or the iPad. Think in a similar way with your dog. Bring your treat pouch, small food rewards (multiple types just in case), a 4-6 foot leash, and a harness where the leash hooks in the front, or a head halter. All of these things will make life easier.
4. Let em' Saturate:
A lot of the times our patience is tested with our dogs is when we are trying to do something new. Saturation is important. In new situations there are a lot of things that are going to catch your dog's attention. We refer to these as competing motivators. It's important to let your dog check things out. The more often he can visit these places, the less exciting they are. It's the same concept as bringing your child to an amusement park and expecting them not to pay any attention to all the fun rides and games. When they first get there, it's tough, but after they get on a ride or two and win a prize, the excitement is less and it's easier to gain their focus. The more you can bring your dog around these things, the less novel they become and the easier it is to get your dog's attention and for him to do the things you're asking him to do.
5. Be patient:
Easier said than done, right? Seriously, remember that you're dealing with a living breathing animal that doesn't fully understand you. They're going to do things that animals do. Like lick themselves loudly, regardless of who's around. They're going to jump on counters and steal food if the opportunity presents itself. They're going to bark from time to time. These are normal dog behaviors. This is why it's a great idea to take a dog training class with your dog. Taking a class, or even doing private training will help you have a better understanding of why your dog is doing what it's doing. It will also give you the best ways to communicate with your dog. Just avoid any trainer that says you need to be a pack leader or your dog doesn't respect you etc. Also, avoid any trainer that is recommending the use of choke chains, prong collars, or shock collars. These devices can change your dog's behavior, but often times there are side effects that are much worse than the initial issue.