If you want your dog to change, you must change

If you want your dog to change, you must change 
There’s just no getting around this! If you want your dogs behavior to change then you must change-some of it has to be permanent, not temporary. All of the training in the world will only get you a little bit of improvement. If you want behavioral changes then your behavior has to change. Even the idea of what your life looked like with a dog may need to change. Especially if you have a dog with high levels of anxiety or aggression.  What you pictured your life with your dog like must change if you want the behavior to change.  For instance, if you wanted your dog to be able to roam around the house most of the time, but you have a dog that is protective or has a history of being protective or territorial, that may be a freedom they never get back in order to change that behavior. If you have a dog that’s very needy, but you want to be able to love on your dog regularly by sleeping in the bed together and couch snuggling, you have to make the decision to do what’s best for your dog rather than what serves you.  Otherwise you will always have an incredibly needy dog. You just may not be able to have it both ways, your way and have a well behaved dog. If you are struggling at home with behavioral issues, something isn’t right. So if you seek training, yet your behavior and habits don’t change, you will constantly feel you are struggling with your dog and it's not the dogs fault.  
Now I know I have talked about this before in “why can’t an old dog learn new tricks”…but things are different now.  Many of us are stressed, we have had some major changes in our lives and we are dealing with something our generation has never seen.  Because of that, our habits and emotional state has dramatically changed.  If we want to start to live our lives again, you need to look at how your dog is doing through all of this.  I am getting numerous emails and calls for help with dogs developing separation anxiety, aggression due to guarding space in the house, more door reactivity and more.  This is all due to our emotional state that has changed, added stress to schedule changes and being home more.  If you aren’t having any different issues with your dog, then don’t worry about this, but if you are, you’ll have to make some serious changes to help your dog cope with things and seek out a trainer over zoom, phone or Skype right away.  These issues are not going to just go away and you need to know what kind of changes you can make to help your dog through this period of time.  It can even help you by focusing on something else and make you stronger in this process and difficult time.  

Now don’t get me wrong, we come across plenty of dogs that are incredibly serious cases and it doesn’t matter if you were perfect, they would still be really difficult dogs to own and potentially have issues. But in order to get control over those issues, to even have a chance at having a more relaxed time with your dog, your expectations of what your daily interactions and lifestyle are like with the dog have to change.  Think about it! It’s not really very fair to expect a huge change in behavior out of your dog, but not be willing to do that yourself as well.  Some tips on how to do that are below.
  • Work your dog for 15-20 minutes a day slowly and on leash.  Choose 5 basic obedience commands and just find ways to repeat them.  Your dog stays in each command for several seconds before moving on to the next one.  This makes sure you are representing focused, calm behavior at least a portion of the time.  
  • Don’t talk on the phone while walking your dog or listen to anything once a day.  Just focus on the noises or lack of noise around you and what your dog is doing.  Feel how it feels walking your dog, enjoying their company and mixing in some basic obedience on the walk.  Dogs know when you aren’t paying attention and are distracted, emotional or otherwise and they know when they don’t feel like a unit, but instead two disconnected energies.  
  • Take a walk without your dog.  However you used to leave your dog in the house before, do it daily so they get real alone time every day and that habit is re-established.  
  • Disagree with anxious or needy behavior and help work them through it by looking up different ways to teach impulse control.  For instance, waiting at the front door while you get the mail, etc.  Practice daily.
  • Spend a little more time balancing working with your dog, ignoring your dog when they are around and also have your dog pretend to be alone, even when you are home, a few hours every day.  If your dog is usually in a crate, crate them a few hours a day in a different room.  If they usually have the house, give them the main part of the house and work in your bedroom for a while, etc.  Dogs are highly social creatures and can develop isolation distress easily.  Just you being around all the time can spoil them to the point of severe anxiety.
  • Create a board or check list to do with your dog every day as well as reminders on some of the things I have mentioned here as well as other blogs and other trainers you like.  Look at them every morning and/or evening.   This will help motivate you and stay on track.
Bottom line, if you are struggling with your dog and you think you need to work on it asap with the current situation, before your dog gets worse, look at how you can change your habits right away.  I hope this post inspires you to do some real reflecting on your relationship with your dog if you are having struggles, how you might accidentally be encouraging it and what you can do to improve it.  When we feel down, stressed or lost, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is focus on someone who needs us and potentially get ourselves together in order to help someone else.  In this case, that could be your dog.  Stay safe everyone.
Bethany Wilson

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