We all love our dogs, but sometimes living with them is frustrating, especially if you have a young puppy or a dog with behavioral challenges.
Unfortunately, when people are stressed, they sometimes take their frustration out on their dogs. This manifests in many different ways, whether it’s mocking, speaking cruelly, or ignoring their dog upon ending a training session, or pet owners out on a neighborhood walk kicking their dog to get them to stop barking at other dogs.
None of this is acceptable. Everyone gets stressed or overwhelmed, but it’s important that we understand how our stress can impact our dogs, and that we not take that stress out on them
Recognizing Increasing Stress
Dogs are our best friends but they are also a lot of work. And for a family who is already stressed out, dogs can exacerbate that stress just by having needs and wants that might conflict with a family’s busy schedule. Dogs often suffer when family stress increases and there is less time to provide training, play, exercise, and attention to them. When dogs don’t get enough enrichment, they often have behavioral issues, which can, of course, increase the stress already being felt in the home.
It’s important to remember that changes to our schedules are stressful to our dogs too. . Dogs thrive on consistency and routine and may become agitated or anxious with routine changes. Be patient as your dog adjusts to schedule changes and new family routines. Try to find ways to add enrichment like play, training, activities, (dog safe) chews, as well as exercise into their day.
There’s a saying in the dog world that you get the dog that you need, not always the dog that you want. Challenging dogs often make us better dog owners, but they can also be overwhelming. It’s okay to feel frustrated while trying to figure out how to be the person that your dog needs you to be while also taking care of yourself and managing your own stress.
While many puppies grow up to be well-adjusted dogs that are less stressful, this isn’t always the case. People living with dogs who have ongoing medical conditions, or behavioral challenges including reactivity and anxiety, often experience ongoing stress trying to keep their pet comfortable and safe. Some owners also experience grief for the idea of what you thought having a dog would be. For example, maybe your dog is reactive or uncomfortable with other dogs, but you had envisioned having a dog would involve long peaceful walks in the park watching your dog frolic and play with other dogs.
It’s important to focus on training and loving the dog you have in front of you, not the fantasy of the dog you thought you would have. But it’s also completely natural to be sad, stressed, or overwhelmed about your dog’s behavior, even if you know they’re making progress. It can be helpful to connect online or in-person with other dog owners who have dogs of similar ages, or behavioral or health challenges.
One of the biggest sources of stress for dog owners having unrealistic expectations of their dogs and how they will act or perform. These can easily be fueled by seeing social media posts from friends and strangers online. It’s important to remember that people post the best or most impressive training clips of their dogs, but that isn’t the reality of every moment. Dogs are dogs; they aren’t perfect. Don’t compare your dog to what other people are posting.
This can happen to families with pet dogs, or even experienced dog sport trainers/handlers. If you’re frustrated with your dog’s performance or behavior, don’t take that frustration out on your dog. Instead focus on keeping your training positive for them. Channel any frustration you might have into being a better handler next time or creating a training plan that will enable your dog to be successful.
If you find yourself overly frustrated with your dog, or regularly stressed out about taking care of them, it’s always okay to reach out for help. Bringing in a skilled dog walker to give your dog attention and exercise during the day while you’re at school or work can help give you more quality time with your dog after work. Similarly, if you’re feeling uncertain about how to proactively work with your dog when they display behavioral challenges like potty accidents, excessive barking, leash pulling, and reactivity, it can be helpful to find time in your schedule to go to training classes with them.
You can also find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods to work one-on-one with you and your dog. Getting help from a dog-training professional can help you to understand your dog, learn ways to communicate better with each other, and help your dog learn new skills that will make the quality time you spend together less stressful. Remember that no matter how much your dog seems to be misbehaving, they deserve to be treated kindly and with compassion. No dog deserves to be punished, abused, or to have you take your frustration out on them.
Take A Break
If you’re having a challenging day or you know you’re in a bad mood, try to take the time you need to get into a better headspace before you pick up the leash and or start to work with your dog. Dogs are excellent observers of their people. Our emotions travel down the leash and they can pick up how we feel. If we’re upset and take that out on our dogs, they are left confused, which can be detrimental to our relationship with them. With that in mind, it’s important to try to avoid training when you feel frustrated or upset. If you ever feel yourself getting angry or frustrated at your dog while training, praise and treat them and end the training session early. Then take a deep breath and go do something relaxing and wait until you have calmed down before trying to work with your dog again.