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  • Darrin Greene

Working against your natural tendencies for better results.

Your brain stops working when you’re nervous. That little shot of fight/flight hormones makes you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. It’s a simple survival mechanism that sometimes backfires. We’ve all been there.

Such is the case when we have a dog that jumps on people, or one that carries on or even gets aggressive when he sees people or other dogs on walks. You know what your dog is likely to do in a given situation, it makes you nervous or embarrassed and you want better control. The first thing most people do is either grab their dog’s collar or choke up on their leash, pulling the dog closer to them, where they feel they have better control.

There are a bunch of reasons why this is counterproductive, even dangerous at times, depending on your dog’s intentions.

The first big reason is something called “opposition reflex”. Sounds complex, but it isn’t. It’s the simple principle that the harder you pull back, the harder your dog wants to go forward. Think of it as loading a slingshot. The more you fight to hold your dog back, the harder they’re going to go when you eventually let them move.

If you are successful in pulling your dog to you, you’re telling your dog “I’m nervous, you should be too. Get close to me! Let’s be nervous together”. This can add to your dog’s frustration and if they’re fearful, put them in a position where rather than run away, they feel they’re forced to fight. Next thing you know someone is getting snapped at or bitten.

Many times you’ll anticipate your dog’s reaction and start choking up on your leash as you see a stranger or another dog approaching, often before your dog even notices. This is you saying to your dog “Get ready to rumble”. It actually becomes a command before long, even when things aren’t really happening.

All of these actions tend to make a nervous dog even more nervous, sometimes leading to a bite. They’ll make a happy, confident dog pull like a freight train and jump like they’re on a Pogo stick. Nothing good ever comes from letting your nerves take over.

The solution, of course, is proper “heel” training and behavioral interventions in more severe cases. First and foremost, you need the desire to change your dog’s behavior and enjoy your time out and about more.

We’re here to help, of course. Find this article thought provoking?

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