By Sean O’Shea from the The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation
When we start to have problems with our dog’s behavior we naturally focus on our dog. It’s natural – the dog is doing something wrong, what’s wrong with him? Why won’t he stop barking? Why is he attacking Aunt Ethel? Why are my dogs fighting? Why does he always destroy the house when I leave? Why does he try to attack every dog on a walk? It’s normal to try and problem solve by focusing on the problem at hand, but problems are usually just the result of other issues left untended to, that have now grown into bigger problems.It’s easy for us to focus on our dogs, but oftentimes the better and far more valuable question is: How are YOU doing? This is usually the best place to start and the last place examined.If you honestly assess yourself, what percentage of the day do you spend being anxious, stressed, guilty, resentful, sad, fearful, needy, impatient, conflicted, angry, manic, depressed or worried, vs peaceful, calm, relaxed, confident, happy, assured, positive, patient and balanced?If you’ve spent any prolonged time with a person in any of these negative states, you know how uncomfortable, draining, and agitating the experience can be. Our dogs feel the same way – except they aren’t able to leave for a breath of fresh air – they simply have to stay, endure, and absorb all of the negative energy.Two things happen when our dogs are repeatedly exposed to this kind of negative human energy: First, it has a profound effect on their fundamental state – because they are forced to live in an uncomfortable emotional environment, they become heavily stressed, and this stress will cause them to engage in all manner of negative/neurotic behaviors. These behaviors can range from chronic barking and licking, to serious aggression. You cannot force an animal to consistently live in a toxic environment and not expect some serious behavioral fallout.And second, by presenting yourself as an unbalanced, unsafe, inconsistent, unpredictable human, there is no way that your dog can allow you to lead him – it simply makes no sense – why would a dog, or anyone else for that matter, follow an emotionally unstable leader? And if a dog has no leader, he will become stressed from the pressure of having to try to lead, and from the absence of guidance.
So the negative impact on your dog is compounded by both of these dynamics – and the effect is fairly staggering.
Because our dogs cannot speak verbally, they become convenient scape goats and unfortunate victims of our unresolved issues. But the truth is, if you watch your dog, you’ll see in his behavior – whether balanced, comfortable and happy, or unbalanced, uncomfortable and stressed – that he’s speaking volumes about you and the environment you’ve created for him.
So if things have gotten dicey or problematic with your dog, it might be a good time to sit back and ask: How are YOU doing?