—Disconnection and misinterpretation—
Murphy the poodle is not all that comfortable with prolonged high energy play. He is also quite timid with a lot of environmental objects (e.g. the place cot).
He does not have the desire to overcome these challenges, he will opt for fight or flight.
He does not show his discomfort instantly. He may bottle his discomfort up until he cannot take it anymore before he reacts.
When he actually reacts, it means he has been subjected to way more than what he could tolerate.
He has learned that his human does not really know what is going on so he will not try to ask them for help. He will try to sort the problem out on his own but he has no idea how.
It is important for humans to know how to read what is going on in the mind of a dog like Murphy.
Unfortunately, a lot of information found on the Internet is only going to compound the problem and make it worse.
Using a lot of positive reward based training and redirecting protocol could result in a dog who always defaults to stimulation when he sees a dog; this stimulation can mask the true feeling the dog has, which could lead to the human making very inaccurate acessment of what is really going on.
When he is over stimulated, we will see impulsive and instinctive responses such as lots of barking when he is off leash around other dogs. This may get misinterpreted as “he is happy when he plays with other dogs but will easily get carried away and act inappropriately.”
But if we could slow everything down, keep our mouth closed, keep our body movement aloof, while keeping our eyes really opened, we can and will see a very different dog — the real dog underneath all the intense reactivities and aroused behaviours, the real dog that is not masked by artificial stimulation created by the human — and we can then connect with the dog on a much more genuine level.
When l observed Murphy this way, l saw a dog who was soft, timid, confused, and had no idea how to feel comfortable among other dogs in a neutral yet confident manner.
I saw a dog who would not try very hard. I saw a dog who has given up talking to the human. I saw a dog who would choose to act at the far ends of a social spectrum (over stimulated or avoidance) but did not know how to stay in the middle.
I saw a dog who was very smart but had no incentive to problem solve once he felt stressed.
Murphy is a very sweet dog with a lot of potential. But he needs his human to give him a helping hand.
He needs them to know who he really is, so they can give him the help that he actually needs.
For example, he is not against playing, but he will want to quit after 7-10 minutes. If we don’t advocate for him, he will start to feel uncomfortable and lose trust in his human once the other dog won’t stop after this time period.
In our social sessions, we always keep a very close eyes on him so we can end the session and get the other dogs away from him before he feels overwhelmed. He is able to interact a bit longer with every session that ends with him feeling positive this way.
If we had allowed the other dog to put too much pressure on him thinking “o, he loves it, it’s good for him”, the opposite will happen — he will develop a more negative perception about his human as time goes by and eventually just stop telling them how he feels. That is when he will choose to become defensive and take matters in his own hand as he believes that is his only way out.
He needs someone who can guide him through the obstacles. He needs someone who can hold his hand and guide him in a way that makes him feel safe.
He is not looking for a grandma, he is looking for a coach.
He needs someone who is willing and able to direct him to victory in a very black and white fashion without a lot of high energy that will only make him feel even more anxious.
Using a lot of food, big erratic body movement, high pitch voice…will only make him wonder, “Why do you keep acting with such unstable energy? Is there something wrong? Should l be concerned?”
For example, if he refuses to get on a particular surface, instead of validating his fear by dispensing lots of treats and displaying lots of soft unstable energy (ie soft taking, high pitch voices…); we simply use the leash to guide him on it in a very calm and matter of fact manner. “It is not a big deal. You can do it, see?! There you go!”
We can use our confidence and low key energy to compliment his insecure, nervous and overly frantic energy — so he knows he can look up to us, follow our energy — and win.
When he realizes he can win by following our lead, he will become more motivated to try listening to us (even without food and high pitch voice), he will have the incentive to work together with us because it makes sense to do so — and he will enjoy more success which will lead to more confidence, more motivation as well as more engagement.
This is a common problem l keep seeing over and over again with a timid, reactive, intelligent, and often over stimulated dog like Murphy.
There is often a big disconnection between the human and the dog.
The human thinks the dog is a certain way but it is actually not true. For example, the human may think the dog has no problem playing off leash with other dogs and they may think that he only barks too much at time because he is too excited — but in reality, this is no true at all.
This disconnection has made it really hard for the dog to trust the human (“Why do you keep putting me in those situations? Why do you keep ignoring what l try to tell you?”)
It also puts lots of stress on the human (“We have tried everything but nothing seems to work! Why?!”)
We can help Murphy to develop more motivation and confidence, teach him better social skill, and empower him with the life skills to handle pressure as stress properly. But the most valuable lesson we are showing him is that it makes a lot of sense to talk to his human, trust his human, and relax in his human’s guidance.
When his human is perceived as a coach who understands him, who speaks very clearly and confidently, who is very fair and consistent, and is someone who can always lead him to having a great positive experience, he will once again start to tell his human how he feels, listen to his human about what he should do, and trust and respect his human to lead him to victory so he can stand down, follow his human and live with his human in harmony. That is why being able to acknowledge and mend this disconnection is so important.