By Janine Lazarus
A great many problems with our dogs these days seem to stem from their inability to manage social situations.
I get a lot of calls from folks who have already diagnosed their dogs with “fear aggression,” “separation anxiety” and “reactivity” issues.
We are SO over-informed about the various catch phrases surrounding our dogs’ behavior that we are often quick to label their behavior as a way to explain why they are doing certain things instead of reading what they are doing and helping them to go forwards.
Change is always hard. For everyone.
Moving is always stressful and habits are hard to change.
A new puppy coming into the home will always have an adjustment period and a dog arriving from a shelter or another environment will also take time to settle into his new home.
We understand this and try our best to support and sooth an animal who is clearly new, nervous, afraid or a bit lost. Our hearts are in the right place but how we provide this support is super important if we are to succeed in helping our new friends become confident and well-adjusted companions.
We must first understand which language we are using to communicate with our dogs.
They do not speak English… or Russian or French or Spanish.
This can be a bit of a problem as we primarily use our words to convey information to each other.
A dog is a creature of sensation and energy that takes cues from smell, body language, instinct and yes, sounds.
So when you gaze into your dog’s eyes and tell him “It’s all going go to be OK” He is probably not going to get the message… Even though he may enjoy hearing your friendly voice.
Holding a young puppy will certainly give him a feeling of safety and reassurance but holding him every time he whimpers or shakes will keep him firmly attached to you as his safe place which can quickly become co dependency…
So, here are a few ways to help your newcomer at any age develop confidence and feel secure.
-Establish a routine. We all feel safer when we know what is coming next.
-Teach him to accomplish something – anything in order to win a prize…food, affection, freedom, it doesn’t matter
-Make your touch a special thing. It should be a treat, not a given
-Don’t isolate him for long periods of time. He is a Pack Animal and needs his “gang”.
-Feeding time should be in a quiet, secure area at the same time every day.
-Stop talking to him incessantly…He will learn to tune you out!
-Separate for short periods, starting slowly and increasing over time…He will probably have to endure this at some point or other so teach him gradually.
-Show him what you want him to do/not do… telling him is useless
-Repeat this information consistently in a calm manner
-Socialize him…slowly introducing him to new people and situations, using the leash as a support not a control
-Don’t allow him to back off… The way forward is activity
-DO NOT tell him “It’s OK” when his feathers are ruffled… You are rewarding his negative behavior, not soothing him
-Try not to focus on him when he is freaking out. Attach his leash and calmly wait out the behavior until he settles before moving on.
-Putting him away from the “danger” does not help him learn to handle it.
-Walk him in the woods, fields, park, anywhere green, on a long leash and let his mind settle
These methods have worked for me with many thousands of dogfriends and I love to pass on tried and true information. Try not to overthink the scenario. Just step back a bit from your dog’s reactions and BE THE ROCK. He will take his cues from you and step forward to take his place on the planet as your partner not your child.
Good luck, as always and please feel free to contact me about any of these opinions!!