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We help a lot of families and their pets with a variety of different behavior problems. We help families with resource guarding, stranger danger, dog-dog reactivity, leash reactivity, separation anxiety, noise phobia, body handling issues, aggression, anxiety, fear, and more.
Each behavior issue brings its own suite of struggles for the families. Each one can impact the entire family as they work through the training plan and move toward harmony with their pet. It’s hard, and those struggles are real, valid, and very impactful.
However, there is a unique difficulty when you need people outside of your home to be involved in your pet’s plan.
For people working on stranger danger, (with the help of a qualified behavior professional) families might come to a point where another living creature will be involved, and that’s hard. That is going to add in another level of unpredictability, which is nerve-wracking and stressful.
I often have clients ask something along the lines of “how do I get the person to follow my instructions?”
And you know what I tell them?
“Expect them to deviate from your instructions.”
It stinks. We may have well-meaning family and friends that want to help us and our dog. They may be all in, but here’s the thing. People are funny. They are SPECTACULAR at doing the exact opposite of what you tell them to do. It’s like when you tell someone not to think of a pink elephant; it’s the only thing they can think of.
Show of hands, who just thought of a pink elephant…
Anyone with a reactive dog that has told someone to “ignore” their dog knows exactly what I’m talking about.
So, if you can expect that people will do the opposite of what we ask, how can you prepare?
*Please remember to work with a qualified behavior professional to fully address your pet’s problem behaviors. If your dog is fearful, uncomfortable, or dangerous around strangers, you should not be introducing them without the oversight of a qualified behavior professional.*
Be very, very particular about who you ask to help.
If you have to provide this person feedback, will they get defensive? Do they try to follow directions? Remember, you are the one that will go home and continue to live with this pet. You are the one that might feel disheartened if things don’t go as planned. Set yourself up for success too. You have every right to tell people “no, you can’t meet my dog”.
Instead of asking, “how can I get the person to…” ask yourself “how can I set my dog up for success when someone…”
This might be a subtle shift, but it can make a HUGE difference. Expect people who are around your dog to want to look at your dog, EVEN IF you ask them to look away. Instead of harping and hounding, consider how you can get them to look at you instead. This might look like me putting myself between the two and body blocking, it might involve drawing their attention to something else like the weather (a lot of people will look up if you look up and mention something).
If I’d see someone about to invade Griffey’s space, I’d call him over to me. People can get defensive with you saying “my dog doesn’t like to be touched, please don’t”, but when I’d call Griffey over and “practice recall”, the tone would shift to people being so impressed with his come-when-called behavior.
If someone doesn’t follow instructions, what’s your plan to help your dog regardless?
Give very clear instructions.
When we were first introducing people to Griffey, we knew that “ignore my dog” wouldn’t work. Instead, we gave instructions like “stand by the light post and stare at the lake”. The more concrete your instructions, the easier they will be to follow. “Cross your arms” or “put your hands in your pockets” can be much more effective than “don’t reach for him”.
Only give instructions you need to.
Often, these people haven’t gone through the same struggles you have. Filter the information to the most important pieces. It will help them retain the information and follow your instructions. Instead of providing them with ALL the scenarios, provide them with the things they absolutely need to know.
Remember, you have skills they don’t.
Think about how much you’ve learned about body language, thresholds, management… since you started this journey with your dog. It’s highly likely the people helping don’t have those same skills. And that’s okay!
They can still be helpful, but just like we want to have reasonable expectations of our dogs, we want to have reasonable expectations of the people who are helping us. It’s not their responsibility to read your dog’s stress level and body language.
- If your dog shows signs of fear, anxiety, discomfort, or aggression around people, work with a qualified behavior professional to build a plan to help your pet navigate around people. We are here to help. Email us at [email protected].
- Determine how you can help your dog be successful, even if someone struggles to follow your instructions.
- Discuss with your behavior professional the skills you might utilize or the instructions you might give before the situation arises.