At RosyDogs, I talk a lot about buckets. Every dog has one, and in the bucket the dog is carrying stress. Every bucket is a different size. It’s all tuned to the dog’s individual personality. Great Danes can have thimble size bucket while a tiny toy poodle may boast an Olympic pool size bucket.
Everything adds stress to the bucket. Good things like cuddles. Scary things like thunderstorms. Frustrating things like the squirrel teasing from an unreachable height. Exciting things like their human coming home. Everything adds to the bucket, and you know what happens when you keep filling a bucket. It overflows. We see that as an overreaction to something. Sometimes something very minor. When that bucket starts to overflow, it’s Boom Time, and almost anything can happen.
The important thing to remember when the bucket overflows is that dogs will do what makes them feel better even if only for an instant. Once they find something that helped them feel better, they do it again and again when the bucket overflows. What you see as excessive barking, or charging after the cat is really what your dog is using to feel better.
Dogs cope with their filling stress buckets in one of two ways. They’re either an Active Coper or a Passive Coper. Active Copers are easy to see. They’re the barkers, the lungers, the charging off after rabbit dogs while the passive Copers tend to fade into the background. They stare off into space, or go into sniffing mode that seems to block out the rest of the world.
Active Copers disperse stress faster and more efficiently. Studies have proven this time and again. Neither method is wrong. One’s just lower the stress faster. The larger point is we can help both types keep the bucket level so low it never overflows.
So what can we do? Well, we have 2 choices. We can either change our homes and lifestyle to accommodate the stressed out dog, or we can meet them somewhere in the middle by working to change the bucket to better match the lifestyle you all want to live. I think you’ll agree that meeting in the middle is best for everyone.
Tomorrow I introduce your first Practical Calming Tip, one to use In Case of Emergency because life gets crazy sometimes.
At the Dane County Humane Society, every canine volunteer and staff member knows just how important calmness is for dogs. To achieve it at DCHS, we do something called Quiet Time. You may have witnessed someone doing quiet time because it’s often done on the public side of the dog’s kennel. It’s the thing we all most love to do. It feels special to be that person with a dog curled in your lap as their new family first sees them. It’s happened to me more than once. A visitor sees a dog relaxing next to me and they rush to the Adoption Center to arrange a meet and greet. Next thing I know, little Emma is heading home with her new family. Nothing feels better. It’s one reasons I donate my time and skills to shelter dogs.
The behaviorists at DCHS have tasked us the mission to give every dog at the shelter a few minutes of relaxation each and every day because shelters are extremely stressful places for dogs. It’s the most precious thing we give them while they await their new family. As a professional dog trainer I know it means even more to the dogs.
When a dog finds something that makes them feel comforted, the more likely they are to do that same thing again. Think about it. If you feel good after a warm bath at the end of a stressful day, it becomes something to look forward. You can’t wait to get home to the bubbles. It’s the same for our dogs. Sadly, many dogs simply don’t know how reach the blissful feeling of relaxation yet it’s vital for the dog’s mental and developmental health. The happy side-effect is it make them better pets.
At RosyDogs, I take the goals of Quiet Time to even greater purpose. I can show you how to help your dog build Calmness as a Default state of being. And I do it through simple games. A calm dog nearly always makes great choices while a hyper, over-excited, frustrated, worried, or frightened dog struggles to fit into your home. Calmness conquers most behavior issues before they even start.
Calmness is King, and you can help your dog get there. I'll show you how.
Watch this space for Calming Tips in the coming days.
I’m often asked what is the most important skill my dog needs to learn. Put another way, with so many things to learn, where do I start?
Great Questions. I can boil it down to Three Concepts Every Dog Should Master.
Think of this as the off-switch so many dogs are missing. Does your dog default to either a calm activity, rest, or sleep when YOU decide it’s time to relax? It’s a tough one for many dogs, especially young dogs. The good news is it’s also a pretty easy one to learn. If you’re struggling with this, I have easy, fast, and fun games as well as two important strategies to help your dog learn to relax in your home. The RosyDogs Boundary Games Workshop is a great place to start.
How does your dog respond when something new appears? Does she back away from an umbrella opening, or bark at a dog appearing in the distance? Both are new things that Optimists will view as something either good, or at the very least nothing of concern. New things are part of life. Learning to think of them as a non-event is key to a happy life.
Book an eye-opening Optimism Assessment today to both learn where your dog is on this important scale while learning 3 powerful games that Increase Optimism in the future.
Once your dog notices something, can he let it go? Or does he continue to pull you down the street after that squirrel? Maybe he paces the entire time your guests are watching the game with you. Perhaps he seems agitated long after encountering something upsetting. Letting go is extremely important in just about every area in your dog’s life.
Often, Disengagement Struggles are often combined with other key skills not on this list. Still, it’s too important to overlook because Disengagement is often the bottleneck to real change. The best way to start is to Book a Consult for a full assessment and GamePlan.
Every dog is different and every dog guardian has different expectations. When pressed, this is where I can confidently say where you should begin on your RosyDogs Journey. An Assessment is designed to fully evaluate your dog to uncover other more important struggles and provide the GamePlan Customized to your dog.
So how do you think your dog would do on this test?
Like us, dogs have Coping Strategies. And like us, they either cope by doing something about it or by avoiding it.
What about your dog?
When your dog is upset, does he jump, lunge, bark, run, pace, spin, or even walk away? Maybe he tears at the grass or sniffs his privates. If you answered yes, your dog is an Active Coper. While the behavior he chooses may annoy you, it works for him, and the good news is change is often easy for him even if it doesn’t seem like it now. But that’s not the focus of this blogpost.
Does your dog tend to shut down around things that bother her? Maybe she hides at the first rumble of a storm, or slinks off when guests arrive. Maybe she lies down and stares off into space, or trembles with her head down, looking at nothing much of the time. She’s a Passive Coper. She’s quiet, nearly invisible, but it’s not a healthy coping strategy.
Passive Copers aren’t processing the stress hormones in their blood. She’s swimming in stress. Shutting down doesn’t make her feel better. She’s stuck, but don’t’ lose hope. She just needs your help to change.
Here’s the important part. We won’t ask her to do anything when she’s off hiding in her corner. We can’t reach her in that state, but we can help prepare her for the next time, and there will be a next time. That’s just life. This is a key difference between RosyDogs and other trainers.
We train for the situation, not in the situation.
At first, all we do is ask her to do is Something. Anything. Even tiny Movement Counts at this point. Just as importantly, she earns zero reward for doing nothing. We have the bigger brain and we know that she needs to Move!
Movement for dogs who shut down at the slightest indication of stress or change may not look like much to us, but for these dogs any movement is monumental. It might be as simple as chomping down on a Kong away from her corner or following you across the room. The trick is to actively help these dogs when they are feeling ok. RosyDogs has lots of Games designed to get her Moving. With the right GamePlan, real life solutions take root in 3 weeks.
For most dogs, it looks something like this.
I have a confession to make. I love helping these dogs, the ones who hide in the corner trembling. There’s something about their energy that blends perfectly with mine. If you have a shut-down dog trembling under the bed, please reach out. I can help you both find peace.
One of the most common struggles our dogs face is over-reacting to other dogs. Especially on walks. Sometimes every walk. Sometimes days go by without reaction, then BOOM. He's going crazy the instant he sees a poodle a block away. It’s confusing, embarrassing and frightening all at the same time.
Solution seems impossible. Nothing you try works, and it only gets worse. If you’re like many dog owners you start with more exercise. You take extra long walks, or even multiple walks per day yet it’s not getting any better. So you head to the dog park for a run. After all, you reason, he’s good with other dogs when he’s not on the leash. He runs around, and you think, this is it. He’s over it. But he’s not. He nearly jerks you off your feet when the next dog appears.
So you sign up for doggie daycare. Most of those dogs are pretty good with other dogs so you think he’ll learn to get along. But he doesn’t. He’s now snapping and lunging at everything that moves.
You realize you’re in over your head so you hire a trainer specializing in counter-conditioning, BAT or desensitization. If he would only understand that those other dogs are nice, he’ll stop. But he doesn’t, and maybe he’s worse. Maybe he’s so frantic you’re afraid to leave the house.
With all due respect, STOP.
Your dog doesn’t need more exercise, and he doesn’t need more time around other dogs, playful or not. Your dog is stressed. Super Stressed. So stressed he can’t think straight.
Look, those other methods worked for some dogs, but they also left a lot of dogs struggling with even worse problems than when they started. It’s a lonely place to be left behind, wondering if your dog is dangerous. Please don’t give up.
The answer you've been searching for is exactly opposite of what you’ve tried.
Your dog is both super stressed and maybe in a state of fear the instant he senses another dog within a half mile. He can’t possibly learn anything while in a full blown panic. Put yourself in his paws.
Let’s say you’re deathly afraid of spiders, and I hand you a box. I look you in the eye and say, “Stick your hand in there. There may or may not be a spider inside. But don’t worry. I’m pretty sure the deadly black widow isn’t in there.” Could you do it? Over and over? That's pretty much what other trainers will ask your dog to do.
RosyDogs teaches you to reshape the brain away from other dogs -in a safe place- where learning can sink in. We train for that dog when fear is not in the picture. This is brain shaping at it's finest.
Look, every dog is different, but in most cases, dogs with dog dog reactivity need to first lower their stress level. While he de-stresses, we play games that help him stay calm around other dogs, then engage with the other dog nicely, and finally, disengage smoothly. He becomes an Optimist who sees other dogs appearing as non-events. It’s a relaxed and effective way to help your dog find real peace.
Isn’t that what you want for him?
Know there is help for every dog struggling with dog to dog problems whether on leash or off.
Rebecca Porter has been fascinated by dogs for decades, but it took a frantic mixed breed to send her on a journey into innovative and real life solutions in dog training.