Help!

To all dogs:

Teacher Sam explains:

You all know when you’ve had enough, right? Those days when you’re irritable and reactive, when you’re just not coping? If you’re not careful, this can lead to longer spells of feeling under the weather and can mean that you have to resort to more severe behavioural symptoms simply as a sign that you’re not coping.

So what do you do about it? Well, you can tell your owners in a number of ways: if you’re just finding life a little difficult it’s a good idea to start off with some simple signs. You might yawn more than normal or turn your head away and ignore any of their bad behaviour. However, they may not notice these signs as they often haven’t had classes in this kind of body language. Scratching, licking your paws, red eyes are all signs that your body can give. Some of these may be too subtle for your owners to notice, or perhaps they notice them but choose to ignore them.

If you need to up the signs, there are other, more attention–grabbing things you can do. Jumping up or nipping hands or legs, particularly after play or when something exciting happens is often a noticeable first step.

Mounting everything in sight is another good one that they certainly take notice of. However, sometimes they tend to mistake it for “dominance”, (well, that’s one of those frequently perpetuated myths that everyone seems to believe!) We know that mounting cushions and people’s legs is what we have to do sometimes when our excitement or frustration levels are brimming over. Just a warning, though. Be careful with visitors, otherwise you might get told off, and this will certainly make you worse.

Another way is to your owners know that they need to take action is to become restless, not settling and to pace around the house. You could always try fetching toys or stealing items. Getting into the rubbish bins is another good one.

You could start to pee more often than usual, perhaps in unusual places. The settee or near the curtains is a good one, as when it’s in the house it helps you to feel more secure. (Again, they may put it down to dominance, so be careful, otherwise you might lose your private bits before you’ve fully matured).

Many of you may start barking more frequently. This is bound to get attention, although sometimes it may be unwanted attention as your owners become frustrated if they really don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

There are hundreds of other signs that you might use. Disobeying commands, getting things wrong even if you’re well trained and not being able to concentrate are clear giveaways to anyone who’s clued up. Unpredictable behaviour, lunging or snapping may do it. If all else fails, turn into a Jekyll and Hyde character – no one can mistake that!

A word of warning though – it’s important that you try to do something about it at this stage otherwise things could really get much worse. You could find yourself with more severe behavioural symptoms or even health problems.

If you’re running out of behavioural signs to show, your body may develop allergies such as red skin, ear infections, stomach problems or even bad breath or body odour. You will probably become much more sound sensitive, reacting to a pin dropping. You may develop touch sensitivity or even sight sensitivity, reacting to movement and going into chase mode very easily.

One of the other things you can do is to try to tell your owners what is leading to you finding it difficult to cope. This may help your owners become more tolerant if they are really on your wavelength.
You can show them by drawing your lips back and panting heavily when they throw a ball for you – although they may tend to think you’re smiling or laughing and enjoying this if you’re not careful. One thing you may hear is “well, he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t enjoy it!”. However, we know that when you’re an adrenaline junkie it’s not easy to stop these activities.

You may become over reactive and snappy when other dogs and people go by – or better still, wait until you see a speck of a person or a dog in the distance and then go bananas! This really confuses your owners if you become non-reactive in a more public place. Be warned though: quite often well-meaning advisors are often given the advice to take you to crowded places where you won’t react.

This will actually make you MUCH worse, so avoid this like the plague.

When you’re really at the end of your tether, some of you may even begin to blank off and keep your head down. Although this is a survival strategy, it’s also quite a worrying sign as it means that you may be internalising your feelings and this can sometimes lead to health issues. You really need to let your owners know well before this begins to happen.

Eventually your owners may get to the stage where they are ready to take steps to do something about it, there is help at hand. If you think they are ready for it and need to know more, they could look for help amongst the many graduates of the IDBTS (International Dog Behaviour and Training School). Contacting Sheila Harper Ltd or filling in the form on the Contact Us page would be a first step.

If they want to learn more about these things to be able to help themselves, they could attend some of the courses that will be available during the year through this website, and if they really want to go into more depth in order to help other dogs and owners the IDBTS is definitely the way to go.