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How our moods effect our Pets

When I visited a couple last week, one of their two small dogs seemed to them too hyperactive when seeing the lead and aggressive towards people and other dogs.

During our talk, the owner agreed she was anxious at these times and wary of this aggressive display. I suggested it was her anxiety that was affecting her dog. My advice for when this happened was to have an extra length of cord and attach it to the lead. When her dog was aggressive, she should drop the lead and walk away. She still had hold of the cord and so her dog but her walking away would stop her dogs apparent aggression. Once she knows this, she will no longer be anxious and the seemingly aggressive actions will stop.

Just to prove this I brought Winston into the garden and though the little dog appeared aggressive, Winston heckles were not up and the little dog was actually wagging her tail. The problem was she had never been socialised with outside dogs because of the aggression so never learnt how to meet another dog properly.

The owners other dog showed no problems but spent most of the time rooting through my bag of tricks much to the amusement of the husband.

The lead problem was simply to keep picking up the lead and putting it down so desensitising her to the sight of the lead. This was actually working as we spoke and she calmed down rapidly.

The wife could accept that it was her being anxious but never thought of it effecting dogs. She owned a horse and said she would never ride her horse when she was upset, angry, or in any way not her normal self. Yes, she would feed them and groom them but never ride them. A horse to survive needs to recognise any signs of danger and having a rider that is giving the wrong signals is an obvious hazard.

This week Anita Bond wrote about seemingly cleaver horses that could do fantastic calculations or answer questions even when given by another person. In an article I too wrote about a similar topic and we both write that it is only a trick of teaching a horse to read very subtle almost undetectable body language.

Do not get me wrong, to teach any animal to achieve this level of training is indeed no mean feat and as human body language is almost universal they have been reading us for thousands of years.

Even though our pets are restricted to very few verbal commands to appropriate actions, they can readily learn to interpret many more imperceptible body language commands than we think they can. Being able to do this, they can also read our moods because they reflect in our body language.

Take for instance the claim I often hear about a dog that destroys property so when the owner returns the pet looks guilty and must therefore know they have done something wrong. They do not. They see you look at the devastation and your body language changes and they read you are not happy so they appear guilty.

For those of you who go to dog training classes. Watch any dog and handler team when they are working but not all is going according to plan; see the handler begin to become apprehensive. The dog reads this and backs off and the handler reacts with more apprehension and may even feel foolish because the dog normally does this particular exercise without a problem.

A good instructor should stop the exercise and not try to take over. Often the dog will work for the instructor because they have good leadership skills and are not uptight. It is because of the mood of the handler they should stop and do something easier. This brings the apprehension into check and often we have to start right from the beginning again. It is far more important to control the human emotions and rebuild the handlerís confidence than complete the exercise.

I can give you a very good example with Winston and myself. Since I had Winston from the Shelter, he has had an issue with the front doors of houses.

At first, Winston would not come into the house. Eventually he came in but as soon as I got up, he shot out the always-open door. He initially preferred to sleep in the back of my car but gradually he started sleeping on a bed in the lounge.

To stop the mosquitoes eating me alive I had no choice but to shut the front door. This meant first thing in the morning opening the door Winston was in panic mode to get outside and often he trapped himself by diving through the narrow opening often jamming his hips between the door and the frame. This was obviously painful but he would not wait until I had fully opened the door. In the end, I simply found it easier to leave the front door open. Even when I moved houses, I left the doors open but if I ever closed them then first thing in a morning, he had the same panic re-enacted.

With my latest move the door sticks on one of the tiles so opening the door quickly is out of the question. I tried making him sit and wait but once my hand touched the handle he was off back into panic mode. I too was becoming apprehensive at opening the door but with the blood sucking insects lining up outside in an evening, leaving the door open was not an option. Winston would not even go through fly curtains. He would not push the strands apart as if he could not abide anything sliding over his sides.

One method I tried was to walk past the door and as Winston went past me I turned and opened the door but he set off like a rocket and needing to turn he slid on the tiles crashing into the other door before making his escape.

I tried holding him by the collar whilst I got the door fully open but as soon as I touched the door, Winstonís legs were seeking traction on the tiles and he badly scratched my left foot. With blood everywhere and colourful words from me, Winston forced his way out and would not come in for ages.

What ever was in Winstonís memory his and my increasing anxiety were making the issue worse with each succeeding day and this had to stop.

Tending to my very poorly foot, I considered methods that would change this. Sociability of opening the door many times during the day did not work as it only happened first thing in the morning. What was there that was so different. Was it some memory generating this fear for Winston or my own increasing apprehension that created this current mounting panic for Winston to get out that door?

I had to go back to simple basics that would stop Winstonís need for escape by offering him a choice.

The next evening before going to bed, I placed a packet of Ginger Nut biscuits on the table next to his bed. In the morning as I walked towards the door in my left hand I held a ginger nut and offered it to Winston. In my right hand, I held the door handle. You could see him thinking about his choice. If he looked at the door, I moved the biscuit closer to his mouth. When I knew he had chosen the biscuit, I opened the door. Once grabbing this he still dived out the door but being fully open there was no collision.

Now with three ginger nuts gone the panic has subsided. I have also found that placing a second biscuit on the edge of the table Winston expected that as well so now he does not dash out the door any more because I am walking away with the second biscuit and he is following me.

When I got up this morning and walked into the lounge Winston was nowhere near the door as he usual was. I have solved the problem but the problem had been me.

When training your dog and you feel worried or apprehensive, stop and look for an alternative method. Trying to hide your anxiety from appearing in your body language is almost impossible to do without a lot of practice.


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