Let that sink in for a second. There is no place for emotion in dog training. Now, granted, you should get excited when your dog gets it right! You can scream off the rooftops - absolutely! Why? Because praise and encouragement, both verbal and physical, are rewards for your dog. They serve a function and provide feedback!
Other non-productive emotions can run rampant when we don’t get what we want. As humans and dogs alike, we become frustrated and annoyed and may even trip lose our cool on occasion. Seems normal right? Wrong. We need to check our emotions at the door. It is these “negative” emotions that we need to be aware of and prevent when working with our dogs. It causes a multitude of issues and can kill your relationship with your dog.
Not getting the results you want? Then try taking a step back and making sure your dog is 80% effective at performing a task before making it harder. Frustration often comes with pushing the dog beyond what their capabilities are. Wouldn’t you be frustrated too if you just learned a skill - and then all of a sudden there’s change? Some frustration is quite helpful in training - it encourages you to try another approach, give your dog a chance to figure it out on their own, and fuel that energy into productivity. The key is knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy frustration and adapting your training accordingly. Do you find yourself getting annoyed at your dog? Then something’s definitely wrong with your communication! Either your timing is way too late, you were sending mixed signals, or you just aren’t being consistent enough with day to day interactions. Remember to set your dog up for success and not failure; and that sometimes means putting your dog into a situation that you were trying to fix and taking the steps to work through it. That takes quite some commitment at times, but being annoyed doesn’t get anything done. Stop, reassess your handling, and try again with a better grasp on what to do, and when to do it.
Is your dog listening to you, but not to friends or family? In order to improve your dog's skill, you need to make sure that the dog is worked with by each person in the household. If members are less active with the dog than others - they will need to step up their game! Consistency and generalization will help loads! It can all be too much for all of us! Humans and dogs included! You may be setting your dog up to fail, accidentally, when there are numerous triggers in any given environment that are causing your dog to be distracted, fearful, anxious, or over-whelmed. We call this trigger stacking. Try working in a less stimulating environment before you start adding more distractions. Good management and prevention can go along way to keep you on track and keep you sane!
Anger and lashing out are just symptoms of our own insecurities when handling or training. If you rely on intimidation and anger in order to get the results you want you’re probably doing it wrong - and your dog knows it. Try to take a step back and analyze the situation. Are you sending mixed signals - allowing your dog to do unwanted behaviors sometimes, but not others? Do you have enough time to work with the dog, or are you pressured by a ticking clock? Are there other things in your life that are preventing you from training (such as kids needing to be fed dinner, zoom meetings for work, or trying to fold laundry)? When you train, but are otherwise preoccupied, your dog will often learn to ignore you because you’re not accountable or available. Make sure you train the dog first, add distractions and THEN apply those skills in daily activities. If you are not focused on them there is no way they can remain focused on you. Lastly, dogs will feed off of your emotions. If you are anxious - they will be on edge or anxious. If you were scared or overwhelmed - your dog will show signs of hesitation or over stimulation. If your dog is reactive and you tense up every time you encounter a trigger - it will absolutely transfer down the leash. In the situations you may need to work on breathing exercises grounding yourself or redirecting your old bad habits in order to be on the road to success. Gaining distance from the trigger and removal will help calm both you and the dog! Take a moment, Check yourself and assess your emotions. Are they productive and feeding into the behavior you want? Or are they hindering you from progress? Can you manage feelings of hostility, anger, frustration, or annoyance and get back to focusing in the task at hand? Think about it, identify your downfalls, and you WILL improve your training. We are all human - but our dogs only know how to be dogs. It’s our job to help guide them in the right direction for a long lasting (and successful) relationship.