Have you ever tried to train your dog when you’re not in a positive frame of mind? Or ended up getting stressed part way through a training session because the wheels fell off? Did you notice that your dog’s behaviour deteriorated too?
The chances are, if you train while you are stressed or become stressed because something isn’t going right, your dog’s behaviour will change too. The dog that seems to be winding you up on purpose is in fact just reacting to your mood. What’s worse is that the more that you train while in a negative frame of mind, the more likely you are to ruin the bond and the trust that you have with your dog.
And don’t be thinking that you can fool your dog into believing that you’re not in a bad mood – no chance of that. Ever heard the expression ‘dogs can smell fear’? It’s actually sweat that dogs detect. When we are anxious we sweat and while it may be undetectable to us humans, your dog can detect that small chemical change. Not only that, but your dog is sensitive to your posture, facial expressions and your tone of voice. Dogs often look to us to tell them whether they are safe or if there is any sign of a threat. If you are showing signs of anxiety, the chances are your dog will emulate that feeling and may become nervous or distracted.
If training isn’t an enjoyable experience for your dog, what is their motivation to keep doing it and keep working with you? Every training session with your dog should be fun and relaxed. If things have gone wrong, take a breath. Do you need to go back a step and make an exercise easier? Have you proofed something correctly or moved on too fast? Are you giving clear signals or being inconsistent?
Ultimately, if you’re too stressed to work out what went wrong, then don’t carry on. End it on something simple that you know your dog can do easily so you finish that session on a positive. I remember avidly reading a dog-eared (no pun intended) copy of Paul Rawling’s book ‘Gundog Training for the Home and Field’ that I had found in a second-hand bookshop and one of his summarising points at the end of the book has always stuck with me; ‘never lose your temper. When things go wrong calm down, have a cup of tea and think about what occurred before attempting the exercise again’. Wise advice.
And if you’re having a stressful day and you know you’re not in a positive frame of mind, don’t start a session at all – wait until you’re relaxed or simply wait until the next day.
Keep calm (or as we say in Yorkshire, “calm thi’sen”).