Understanding Dog’s Anxiety and How to Help

I have been training animals my entire life. Whether it was dogs or horses, my career has revolved around helping animals reach their potential. I absolutely love it. I am passionate about my work, and I have the experience that allows me to be confident and comfortable in my environment. 

However, I recently had a dream. In this dream I was suddenly the CEO of a major corporation in a foreign country. At first glance that might seem like it was a massive upgrade; I had the big office with a great view, a personal secretary, and a large salary. In reality though, I was absolutely terrified. The phone was ringing and people were asking questions that I didn’t understand; it appeared that nobody could speak my language. People were coming and going, but largely ignoring me. If they were trying to communicate with me they seemed mad or frustrated. I began to feel defensive. It felt like total chaos. I knew there needed to be order, so I tried to create some, but nobody seemed to pay attention unless I got really loud and animated. I was being asked to do a job that I didn’t have the knowledge to do.  It is safe to say that in my dream,  I was feeling a lot of anxiety!

Imagine yourself in a similar situation to the one that I just mentioned. You are suddenly thrust into a position that you are not prepared for. You have no idea what you are supposed to be doing and there is nobody to guide you and help you understand. Chances are that this would lead to feelings of stress or anxiety. You might become defensive, or just hide in your office where you could feel safe. This fear might cloud your judgement and leave you extremely vulnerable to making mistakes and making choices that caused problems. This is the exact situation that many dogs find themselves in every day.

Many dogs are living with families that love them very much, but don’t give them guidance or show them how to interpret the human world in which they live.  When a dog interprets the world on their own, they interpret it from a dog’s point of view. This often leads to behaviors that are unacceptable in a human world. Dogs in this type of environment often feel high levels of anxiety or fear. These dogs are in, what we call, an avoidance mindset. They are constantly looking to avoid situations they perceive as dangerous. We see these emotions manifested through their fearful actions: quick to bark and drive threats away,  constantly whining, or hiding, and if we think of it like the scenario described above then it makes sense! They are put into a world that is not familiar to them, they often don’t have effective ways to communicate with the people around them, and they have to try and figure out this entire complicated world all on their own. So of course they exhibit anxiety; that would be a stressful situation!

However, if we think about it in this way, then it is also easy to understand why we have seen leadership to be so helpful in lessening a dog’s anxiety. Imagine how my experience in the dream may have been different if I had a mentor; someone that could help me learn to communicate with the people that I was working with, someone to turn to with all the questions I had, someone that could teach me how to handle these new experiences. I may still have some stressful or unsure situations but I would be far more confident and comfortable if I knew there was someone there to help lead me.

Once again I find that our dogs are the same way, if dogs have a good leader that can be a mentor or guide for them, then anxiety decreases immensely. They no longer have to be worried about needing to understand every single situation that comes up, they just need to be able to know how to look to and communicate with us. If they can look to and communicate with us, then we will help them understand how to handle any given situation. Now their focus goes from trying to understand an entire world, to just following the person that already understands the human world, us! We are the key to helping them live happy and fulfilling lives in a human world.

This is often easier said than done because dogs don’t come with the innate ability to speak our language. But we can create the ability to communicate with our dogs. We can help them know how to handle various situations; and we can learn to recognize the cues they are giving to communicate their wants and needs to us. That is the focus of our Foundational Online Courses, and our overall approach to dog training in general. T’s Doghouse is very unique in the fact that we don’t just focus on teaching dogs tricks and commands. We focus on teaching people how to communicate and teaching dogs how to look to people for this communication and guidance. We have found that by doing this there is no limit to what we can teach our dogs and no limit to the experiences that we can have with them! We can, quite literally, make their dreams, and our dreams, come true!

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