Is Your Agility Dog Revved or Stressed
When you get bit by the dog agility bug you will find your conversations start to steer in the direction of how to get your dog to run a bit faster, to have more drive on course, win some titles and even how to have more fun. But this can be some sticky ground if you are inexperienced and what you think is your dog getting revved up is really your dog getting stressed out.
You play with your dog, getting him good and ampted up, ready to run! However, some dogs aren’t revved up at all. In fact, they’re bouncing off the walls in stress, whining and making a high pitched yodel because they are stressed about what they are supposed to do. And poor souls, their owners are egging them on thinking their dog is ready to rumble! Then they hit the course and come out scratching their heads about why the dog went off course, refuses to listen and in some cases run and sit by the out gate begging to be let out. There are not having an ounce of fun after all.
You are now wondering what is wrong with playing with your dog and building their drive, absolutely nothing. That is IF that is what your dog is doing. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of doing what someone else does with their dog because it works for them. We need to read our own dog and find what makes that individual dog happy. For some that is some serious tug and play time, for others it can simply be the words “let’s go.” Still others need quiet warm up and focus exercises.
How do you know if your dog is stressed? There are a lot of signals a dog will give off when they are reaching the threshold of stress. Watch for them and you can start designing a competition regimen that gets your dog running for you at their best. But, you have to be vigilant and very proactive. For example, zoomies can be a huge signal that a dog was stressed by something in the course moments before the onset. Maybe confusion about an obstacle or uncertainty about an entry. Signs that your dog is starting to stress can include the following:
- unusual panting
- complete inattention
- avoidance, they refuse to look at you
- excess barking
- that crazed look
If you miss the signals and find your dog displaying obvious signs of stress try settling your dog with a calming voice, ear stroking, a short walk or maybe “tricks for treats.” You could do massage at home and if your dog enjoys calming strokes you can use them when your dog gets over stimulated at trials as well. Don’t make your dog lie down and be silent. Find something that will bring your dog back into focus on you and allow their brain to clear and think. Experiment with your dog until you find a system that works for them.
Don’t forget about yourself. If you are nervous or stressed, your dog will pick up on your energy and become stressed as well. You need a plan for your own emotions as well. Keep yourself focused, watch other runs, don’t watch other runs, take a walk, visualize your run, breathing exercises. Find what helps you keep an even keel so you’re not sending mixed signals to your dog.
If nothing seems to help your dog, talk to your veterinarian. Your dog could have a physical issue causing them discomfort or have a condition such as allergies that interfere with their ability to focus. And don’t be afraid to ask for advise from other competitors. They may see something you are doing before, during or after your run that could be confusing your dog and causing them stress.