This was published in Inside NoVA in a shortened version in Feb 2019. It was not on line so I expanded it for this blog – Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
In this blog I am referring to behaviors that are indicative of stress. Dogs exhibiting stress often behave in ways we do not like. These dogs may be labelled as dominant, stubborn, or defiant. Children may be called spoiled brats or pests, clingy and “mama’s boys/girls”.
We have seen dogs lunging, spinning, jumping, barking, whining, panting, pulling all over, or reluctant dogs being dragged by his owner. We have seen that overtired, hungry, burned out, in desperate need of a nap child, melting down while an adult, often distracted by a phone, drags him through a store. Alternatively, the child may be withdrawn, shutdown, shuffling along, having given up. Laments along the lines of “Why are you giving me such a hard time?” often follow. The answer comes from various memes I have seen: “They are not giving you a hard time, they are HAVING a hard time.”
A common response to these behaviors is punishment. Show that dog who is boss. Give that kid something to cry about. Punishment may be applied until the behaviors stops. The assumption is if the behaviors stop that punishment worked. Nope. You may get the illusion of the problem resolving when more emotional, and better hidden, damage is done. Think of the commercial where the harried mother places a monkey sticker over the indicator light on her dashboard. The problem is still there. Covering the light does not mean the problem goes away.
Another response, especially to fear, is to ignore it because we do not want to “encourage” fear. You cannot reinforce fear. Let me say this again: YOU CANNOT REINFORCE FEAR. Please comfort your scared and stressed dog or child. It is amazing what properly responding to and helping a dog or child through fear can do. You need to build trust to help overcome fear.
Being over tired, not feeling well, placed in situations not age or ability appropriate, being afraid, overwhelmed, overstimulated, anxious, hurt, confused, people around them not giving lessons needed to handle life before something happens, etc., can all factor into undesired behaviors and the perception we are being given a hard time.
Life is stress (good and bad). We cannot avoid it. However, We can productively teach other how to handle things. Dogs and children do not perceive things like human adults. Dogs are a totally different species. Children, especially young ones, are not little adults. We cannot expect them to behave as such. What is fine for us may be too much for them at this point.
We need to teach them how to navigate different situations. Have them learn and experience things at an age and ability appropriate pace for the individual. We need to work to not overwhelm them and assist when we see the beginning of distress. Have a game plan prior to going into situations, even if it is going home. When we are mindful of the needs of our pets and kids, physically and developmentally, and learn how to teach in more effective ways, we make a difference.
Being a parent has helped me become a better dog trainer. Being a dog trainer helped me be a better parent. By understanding how stress affects development, perceptions, and learning, we can increase the chances of successfully raising resilient and mannered dogs and kids. It is amazing, when lessons are done with thought, what even little ones are capable of learning and being able to experience without having a hard time.