Setting the Right Pace in Stressful Moments

Terriers tend to do things to the extreme. Miles is ridiculously friendly, and pours out love at anyone he meets. He is the first to meet and greet new dogs and people, and the first to send out hints that we go snuggle at the tv in the evening. But by nature, this strong, intelligent and independent personality can come with a few built-in extras that aren’t automatically as desirable. No matter whether you’ve gotten a puppy or an adult dog, you can steer away from unwanted behaviors by setting a good pace for you and your canine companion.

When Miles was younger, he could go from 0 to 60 in an instant if he got a hold of something he wanted, or found a forbidden area. One moment, he was a sweet little puppy, the next, a clenched ball of muscular fury, staring at me with the eyes of a rabid wolf. Once a terrier or similarly-minded dog has a goal, their natural reaction is often to guard the item or area with all of their might. Welsh terriers, for example, were bred to hunt and kill quite formidable prey, which is a job that requires intense focus, bravery and tenacity. This ingrained terrier mindset is excellent for hunting, but not so great if your pet suddenly zeros in on something in the home.

Setting the Right Pace in Stressful Moments
The natural human inclination in such a situation is to lunge at the dog and try to snatch the item away, or to abruptly move them away from the area they are guarding. We tend to resort to desperate behavior pretty quickly, especially because half the time the dog has gotten into something that could cause them harm. In situations like this, you are going to have to take a deep breath, put on your happy face, and pretend you are calm even if you are frightened, frustrated, or angry. Punishment, frantic screaming, and/or begging will only escalate the situation. The dog is already worked up and reactive, so the goal is not to do the same in return. You can lessen their anxiety by controlling your own. Take a second to compose yourself.
I do not believe methods for dealing with this sort of behavior should be about being dominant, breaking anyone’s “spirit,” or winning some sort of wrestling match. It is just about being a strong responsible and trustworthy leader. You are their protector, and in their eyes, you should always seem like you know what to do. Believe me, if you consistently take charge calmly and respectfully during these moments, your dog will forever remember and respect you.
So what do you do if your dog snaps into a feral alter-ego over something? Be calm, strong, and think ahead. Your goal is to break their concentration by being a positive outside force, to simply re-direct their focus, and finally to praise them for snapping back to their pleasant normal self. Dogs are always trying to figure out what we want from them, so make sure they know when you are pleased with a positive shift in their behavior.

Setting the Right Pace in Stressful Moments
{  The goal? Snap your dog back to reality by being a calm respectful leader  }

Relax your body, and say silly things in a relaxed cheerful voice like “oh, that isn’t a big deal, why are you worked up, this is silly.” Avoid sudden movements or lunging into the dog’s personal space. Sudden movements will be seen as aggressive and be taken as challenge, and will not build the trust or calm environment you are working to achieve. Also try your best to avoid acting overly fearful or timid. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they will try to be brave and bolt towards the dog, then suddenly jerk away when they lose confidence, and repeat the process over and over. This will work the dog up even more, because to them, you are showing that you are incredibly unpredictable. From their perspective, you are acting irrationally, and for all they know, you could randomly attack. This sort of behavior will have your dog more on guard than ever, and in return, they too will become more anxious and unpredictable.
If you can be calm, you can break the spell and move their attention towards something positive. That can be their favorite squeaky toy, or being cheerfully instructed to do something as simple as “sit,” and wait for a little reward for listening to your request. I truly believe dogs want a calm happy environment just as much as people do. The anticipation of fun often will be enough to break their concentration and snap them back to reality.
Some dogs don’t have any problem letting their owner handle situations at all times. Others are a bit more of a challenge at first. But over time, if you show your dog that you are a trustworthy and a strong leader, you will not only be in the best possible position to deal with such situations — you will lessen their occurrence all together. If you think ahead and act like it isn’t a big deal, your dog will learn to think that it isn’t a big deal either. The more relaxed and predictable you are, the more your dog will also be in return.

One comment on Setting the Right Pace in Stressful Moments

  • Pam

    Hi, This is excellent advise. Thank you. We know our lovable Welchies can have their moments, and approaching the moments in the correct way is important. Daisy used to guard the Dishwasher also, but now she doesn't! Pam

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