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Have you never had a dog like this before?

I often joke with clients that the title of this post should be our business tagline. So often we hear from the pet guardians we work with that they've had dogs before, maybe even a lot of dogs, but they've never had one like the one they've came to us for help with. Having a dog (or any animal for that matter) with behavior concerns can create a great deal of stress in their human counterparts and it can be especially difficult when past pups felt easier to integrate with.

This is because we don't envision these challenges when we make the decision to take on a new companion (at least most of the time). The stress that comes with significant behavior hurdles brings about a lot of other secondary challenges for the humans. Below are some common components that we want you to know are normal to experience.

  • Equal parts reactivity. This can occur in the face of a lot of behavior problems. The human feeds off of the stress or overstimulation of the animal when the undesirable behavior is happening or from knowing what inappropriate behavior may be just around the corner. This doesn't mean that if you simply act calm, it will automatically resolve the issue. It just means that it's more difficult to problem solve effectively when your stress levels are heightened, which can add gas on the fire. Behavior is complex in both species and someone telling you to just be calm and asking you to avoid your feelings of frustration or overwhelm without proactive coping strategies is about as effective as expecting your companion to do the same in the face of their own big feelings. When someone walks their dog. knows their dog is hyper-vigilant, and is likely to begin barking, pulling and lunging when they spot another dog, what naturally occurs is that they suddenly finds themselves constantly scanning their environment in an effort to spot unfamiliar dogs before their pup does so they can avoid the potential reaction. So the human, in a way, becomes a flavor of reactive as well and walks aren't what either party would ultimately prefer they be. If you find yourself on edge on walks, or in other social situations with your furry friend, don't feel alone. First off, recognizing how difficult it feels to be calm in the face of the heightened stress and realizing that your dog is likely similarly struggling (but perhaps for different reasons) can help you better understand them and set you up for working together as a team as opposed to feeling like the experience is a battle between you. Part of our job is to help our clients better understand their animals, as well as how to navigate these problem areas with better communication and training exercises, which helps build confidence in both parties and helps goals get met. So, we want to help your dog feel calmer and more confident, and we want that for you too!

  • Conflicted. There are so many opinions and pieces of advice for how to handle any given challenge, especially because this field is wildly unregulated. This sea of options can be confusing and stressful, as everyone just wants to do the right thing, but knowing what the right thing is, isn't always super easy to discern. Additionally, I regularly get asked by my clients how to deal with the barrage of unsolicited advice from their family and friends on how to handle their behavior concerns, which can be especially frustrating for them when they've already started the behavior modification process with a professional and that outside advice goes against what they're paying to be instructed to do. I don't run into a lot of active clients that are asking because they aren't on board with our plan, but because it feels isolating to have a lack of support from those closest to them. They want to know how to shut down the unsolicited opinions or educate on why they're training the way they are without a bunch of turmoil or conflict. What I often tell my clients is that they know their family or friends much better than I do, so it will be up to them what will be best. I lay out the myriad of options they have for ways to communicate or navigate the social situation. Ultimately, they have to choose what is going to be comfortable or fit well for that dynamic.

  • Resentful. This is the one that people have the hardest time communicating. Whether it's guilt, a fear of judgement, or both that fuel the shame around this negative emotion, it's very common for us to hear. The levels of stress some people experience living with difficult behaviors, if not addressed effectively, can gradually chip away at the bond on both sides of the relationship, and create or deepen pessimism. This can lower chances of success significantly. On top of helping our clients understand what motivates their animal, and fostering empathy, we also want them to know that they aren't alone. A sense of aloneness can make a behavior hurdle feel insurmountable regardless of whether it actually is or not, and as we always say, perception is as good as reality. If your companion's behavior is making you feel like you're losing your connection (or struggling to build one in the first place), know that you are not alone, but what you are is human. Speaking with a trusted professional about your challenges with your dog (or cat, or bird!) can help give you a better perspective and the confidence you may need to move forward.

It's important that you know that if you're feeling any of the above, there is help through it. Reach out if you'd like to find out more about what you can do to improve you and your companion's quality of life.

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