Revved or stressed?
In Agility, we talk a lot about getting our dogs’ drive up, about how to make them run faster and have more fun and win more titles. So we play with our dogs, and work them up, and get them ready to rumble! but sometimes I’ve seen dogs that aren’t revved- even if they’re bouncing off the walls- they’re stressed! The high pitched yodelling whine isn’t a happy sound from these dogs, it’s an ‘oh, what am I doing, what’m I DOING?’ cry, in response to which their owners egg them on, to encourage even more ‘drive’. Then they wonder why the dog goes off course, and seems unable to hear them! or, worse yet (and I actually saw this this weekend) the dog goes and sits by the ring gate, just begging to be let out, this isn’t fun, momma.
I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t play with our dogs, or work on drive, or talk in fun high pitched voices! we should! *If* that is what our dog needs and likes and that revs them up. I have a dog that a ‘let’s go!’ means I have a wiggling mass of puppy all ready revved up and hyper and WHERE is what he is supposed to do? Let’s go! My other dog actually needs calming and much ear stroking before her run or else she won’t hear a word I say. Often, zoomies upset the handler, and the dog comes down from their stressed ‘high’ to a stressed owner, and that makes it even more stressful!
To help your dog deal with stress, it’s best to start early- before they get too stressy! In class, don’t rev him up to stress. You can tell they’re getting upset if they’re;
- complete inattention
- won’t look at you, even if you say their name
- excess barking
- that crazed look
This dog is not hearing you. Settle the dog down by stroking their ears, and speaking to them in a calm voice. Don’t overdo your soothing, though, or the dog will think you are rewarding their stress behaviors! I find that if ear stroking doesn’t work, a short walk and/or doing tricks for treats can help! You don’t need your dog to lie down and be silent- you need him to be focused on you and thinking. Asking your dog to shake and giving him or her a treat may be enough to ‘snap them to’. Other dogs may need some relaxing ear massage and stroking, a short walk, AND a trick or two.
Evaluate your stress- are you upset, anxious, annoyed or twitchy? Our emotions trickle down the leash, I swear! My dog was literally vibrating and screeching at me a while ago as we waited hours and hours for our turn to come in training! (there was some scheduling issues and we actually went home without our second run. He was miserable, and so was I.) but that was my fault! he felt upset because I was angry, cold, hungry, and stressed! He didn’t know why, but he took my feelings and ran with them. I calmed down as soon as I got back in my car and could feel my feet again (blessed unheated indoor rings) and lo and behold, he stopped yodelling, shaking, and chewing his feet. He lay down and went to sleep, exhausted. I knew I needed to get a better handle on myself next time.
If your dog consistently stresses, talk to your trainer and see what you can do to help your dog not to react that way. It may be environmental factors, allergies, or a physical problem. But in most cases, training and cheerfulness will succeed in keeping your happy go running agility dog happy to go running!