One of my favourite phrases in the dog training world is “The learner is always right”. I love the various levels it can be applied at. My dogs are learners, my client’s dogs are learners, my clients themselves are learners and finally I myself am a learner. I find that when working with reactive dogs and their owners, so much information is discussed about keeping the dog under threshold, making sure they’re not trigger stacked, understanding their physiological response to a trigger and keeping things as easy as we can for them that we often forget that we, as handlers of reactive dogs, are allowed the odd reaction as well. All of the physiological responses, trigger stacking and threshold apply to humans as much as they do to dogs.
But it’s so important to remember that as a human you’re allowed your reaction as well. If your dog reacting to a leaf because they’re trigger stacked from the seven dogs that just surprised you out on a walk made you jump out of your skin and you yell at your dog in response, or maybe tug on the lead as a reaction. That’s okay. That’s not a training moment, it’s a reactionary one and your body is responding to your dog’s reaction as your dog’s body is responding to whatever makes them react.
I found that when I was first learning to train dogs and read around the methods behind them that I felt I could never let my emotions cloud my interactions with my dogs. This is a hugely unrealistic expectation to place upon yourself and when you think about it, goes against all of the learning I was doing. When you have reactive dogs, or dogs who struggle, it’s drilled into you that your dogs are having a hard time, not giving you a hard time, that they might be reacting because they’re trigger stacked and all of the physiological changes that go with reactivity. However, rarely do I find this understanding applied to the human half of the lead.
When my boys react I know that yelling at them or getting frustrated isn’t going to help the situation but occasionally things catch you off guard and I have a reactionary response that I have no control over but can end up feeling a huge amount of guilt over. I want to foster a culture where the human having a reaction is okay as well. You are after all, only human.
How do you feel when you have a natural reaction to your dog’s behaviour? Do you struggle with feeling bad when your dog isn’t your favourite thing on the planet? Let me know down below.