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Vancouver, BC, Canada

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  • Richard Chan

Don't be like my mother.


"Why doesn't my dog trust me? l am really nice to him!"

I was asked this question when l explained to the owner of a reactive dog that the dog reacted because he did not feel safe. I explained that he growled/barked/lunged because he didn't trust that his owner could have things under control to keep him safe.

I think this was such a great question l would like to share my thought here with all of you.

Let me tell you a little childhood story of mine first.

I remember when l was a kid, my mother just got her driver's licence, and l was scared of sitting in her car.

I loved her, but l didn't trust her as a good enough driver to keep us safe.

She was new, it was a big van, and l never seen anything other than her being over cautious and over reacting to many little things on the road that suggested to me she knew what she was doing.

Everything l had seen (her nervousness, her over reaction, the lack of control of the van, her struggle with parking...) failed to convince me that she could drive.

She was really nervous she would ask us not to talk to her. She had problem controlling the van in tight turns. Her parking was always taking a long time. Other drivers always honked at her.

In a nut shell, what l saw told me she had no control of the vehicle. Therefore, l had a hard time trusting her to keep me safe.

My love for her, and her love for me had absolutely nothing to do with it. I knew she loved me, and l loved her dearly, but l still didn't feel safe.

If our dogs are not convinced that we have things under control, they would feel the same way.

No matter how much we hug them, how many bullysticks we buy them, how much money we spend on them, they will not trust us.

What happened when l didn't trust my mother, and l had to sit next to her in the van?

I could not relax. I kept scanning for dangers and threats. I looked at every vehicles, bicycles, and passers-by and l was really nervous. I kept yelling at my mom "watch out, there is a car!" "stop! there is a guy there!"

A reactive dog who is really anxious on the walk feels very similar to how l felt in my new driver mother's van.

Such a dog is really nervous. He keeps scanning for dangers. Every time he sees a dog he would tell that dog to go away and leave him alone by growling, pulling, lunging, barking, snarling...etc.

He believes his owner is unable to control the other dogs. He believes he has to handle the situation himself. So he makes a big scene. He becomes reactive much like how l over reacted to every car/person in my mother's van.

My mother actually never got into any accident. She became much calmer after a few months.

After a while, l calmed down and then l just day dreamed in the van and stopped worrying. Once l started to relaxed, l ignored other cars and people on the road and l no longer yelled at her.

Similarly, if our dogs are convinced that we have control, they can relax and stop the reactive behaviour.

Love cannot convince a dog we have control. That is why no matter how much you love a dog, if he does not trust you, he is not going to stop reacting. He would remain a very tense and stressed dog.

He needs you to convince him that you are a "good driver".

Until you do, your love can do nothing to change his mind, just like my love for my new driver mother did nothing to calm me down.