What are dogs with big feelings and why am I writing a post about them?
With February and Valentine’s Day approaching, in addition to some thoughts I’ve been having as I reflect on the training I do with dogs, I felt inspired to write a free-flow blog post. Emotions are tough; some people hate Valentine’s Day because of bad experiences or the pressure the holiday gives to those of us who may not have a romantic counterpart, while others who are high off dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin dumping into their system because of an object of affection can’t wait for the date! I’m not going to comment on my personal status right now, but I do have a bit to say about dogs who have “big feelings.”
For as long as I’ve been on the dog trainer path (at this point it’s been a little more than a decade), I have been surrounded by dogs with big feelings: dogs who jump all over you, excitedly, because they love and missed you so much, dogs who pull and bark and whine if you’re walking them on leash and they see something or someone they desperately want to visit, dogs who run away from something or someone, or bark and lunge at it, because it is different, weird, and/or scary, and many more. There are many dogs with many big feelings that lead to big behaviors!
Dogs are emotional creatures. While we can’t get in there to know what might be going on, and they can’t just say, “Hey, Laura, that dog over there is staring at me and it’s making me nervous,” we can observe the behavior. For the dog who just “spoke” to me in that last sentence, he might be tucking his tail, looking away, and sniffing the ground because he wants to avoid that dog and show he’s not a threat, or, he may be hitting the end of the leash, barking and snarling, to tell the other dog that he should stay away.
Regardless of the motivation, the dog has big feelings that lead to these behaviors. Some of these behaviors we may not even notice and they may not bother us, while some of them are making our lives almost hell…no joke. I have had clients at the end of their rope because their dogs have terrible anxiety, fear, reactivity or aggression. I have had other clients who don’t even realize there is a problem, though their dogs are giving signs—and they haven’t reached out until the dog has a bite history.
This isn’t a blog designed to teach any of you how to address each and every big feeling a dog may have. Instead, it is to help you know that you are not alone if you are struggling. And it to help some of you know that there is a lot for you to learn so that you can read your dog before some bigger feelings do happen. It’s also to encourage people to have compassion for their dogs, even when they may be making you embarrassed, or you’re labeling them as a jerk or a scaredy cat or whatever else. Your dog is struggling and there is help.
Also, it’s to encourage you to reach out for help and to be aware that, if you are talking to a dog trainer or professional of any sort, they should have an adequate understanding of how to address those big feelings, because an emotional state is something that needs to be addressed first, before the behavior can be improved. And it’s definitely not a dog who needs to be put on a shock, prong or choke collar, or to be punished for getting things wrong. These dogs need well-seasoned positive reinforcement-savvy professionals who will have compassion for not only your dog, but you, too.
We’re here to help. Even if we’re not the right fit, we’re committed to helping you find the right help. That’s our promise to you, and to your dogs with big feelings, this Valentine’s Day holiday, and beyond.
Thanks for reading, and keep your chin up!