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How we feel affects how our rescue dogs learn

Confidence and Emotions can affect how dog owners train using positive reinforcement

It seems like an obvious statement doesn’t it. But if you have been there you will know what we mean. We are desperate to get it sorted and that usually means trying to sort it quick.

If you’ve never had a reactive dog, then you’ve not experienced those grim moments of hanging onto the leash while your dog lunges and growls at other people of dogs. You feel depressed and the first thing you hear is that it is your fault! Even if you have only had the dog for a few days – you have done it all wrong. How come?

Maybe it is nothing to do with what you have done – maybe it is all to do with how the dog is feeling and has worked out that if he/she does a certain thing – the worry will go away. Yes, we know that reward-based methods are the kindest way to resolve behaviour issues, but they aren’t always what people use. They need a quick solution and although I can guarantee that it doesn’t work, it will be used. We all want a quick solution these days.

Research from Dr Emma Williams and Dr Emily Blackwell from the University of Bristol shows that they have found that the importance of using positive reinforcement needs to be supported by the dog trainer building confidence in the owner’s abilities. It is important for owners, and the trainers helping them, to look at their own feelings and reactions as well as those of the dog. If they lack confidence, then how on earth are they going to be able to help their dog.

This is where our lifestyle classes are a useful aid. You can safely practice with your trainers in an area where you are not being judged, can make mistakes and no one is going to be worry as they are all concentrating on their own dogs.

Behaviour problems are a common reason for dogs to be given up to shelters or euthanized. Encouraging people to use positive dog training methods should help but they will need support. There is no quick fix, magic wands or simple solutions. If they have tried something and it hasn’t worked, for whatever reason, it may mean that they are less likely to try again. The owner can become very stressed, nervous and on edge and of course, the TV programme gives the idea that doing it once will sort it. It doesn’t and then the owner feels they have let the dog down, they aren’t good enough and a failure.

As dog trainers we need to be supporting our clients and assuring them that it will take time, they are good enough and find simple things for them to do to build confidence. Trouble is if that dog is reactive, what is the likelihood they will stick at it?

To help these dogs, the environment needs strict control and coming to class once a fortnight isn’t enough – what happens on the other days when they need to walk their dog. The people side of dog training cannot be ignored when dealing with owners of the reactive dog. How to deal with that?

My five steps to a perfect recall shares with you our “First Aid Plan”. You need to be practicing this every day and then when it goes wrong – DO IT and quickly you and your dog will be calming down. You have practiced this, and your dog knows what it is. You have taken control and they trust you to make the decisions. I know it is simple, but hey you don’t need difficult at that moment, do you?

Join our classes and get the support you need at


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