Overwhelmed!

Sometimes, when you are trying to teach your dog a new behavior, or asking for a known behavior in a new context, or in the face of distraction, your dog may “shut down”. In the world of dog training, when your dog acts as described below (by Deborah Jones, PhD.) they are called “shut down”. (and no, this is not April Fools, this is reality)

“This type of dog tends to fold under pressure. When they feel stressed or anxious their tendency is to do less.  They move more slowly. They don’t respond to known cues. They avoid interaction with the trainer.”

Deb Jones goes on:

” Why is your dog shutting down? The simplest answer is stress. So explore that further.  Why is your dog stressed? The most common reason I see for this is pressure to perform.”

The entire post by Deb Jones is here.

It is easy to imagine pressure to perform happening at an agility trial, or in the show ring at a dog show. But it can also occur when you are training a new behavior. In positive reinforcement training, we want the dog to try to make us click. What happens when your dog doesn’t understand what will make you click? Frustration? Stress? Yes. Your dog can feel overwhelmed – overpowered by thoughts or feelings or events.

In this pandemic year, many families have decided to adopt a rescue dog, or add a puppy to their family, and the demand for dog training has increased. That’s wonderful, for both the dogs and the people. I am certain that my dogs are helping me to better survive this crazy year. Some families are finding that they bit off a bit more than they can chew, and the demand for help from professional dog trainers has grown along with the increase in adoptions and the increased time at home.

I have been overwhelmed by requests for help. I am experiencing that stress of too much – too many calls for help in not enough time to process and respond. And my response is, somewhat, to “shut down”. Many times in the last several months, I have wanted to simply hunker down in my room with a good book and a cup of tea and ignore it all. It is great for my business to have so many inquiries, but not so great when I am overwhelmed by the volume.

What helps me the most is to figure out how many appointments I can comfortably process in a week and not schedule more than that. I can’t help everyone immediately. I don’t want to work 7 days a week, or even 6 days a week. I need to follow protocols to avoid transmitting disease, as well.

I think I have experienced a bit of what the shut down dog does, but because I have a human brain, I can solve the problem. I can take steps to remove myself from the stressful situation, to restructure parts of my life so everything can work.

Dogs can’t do that. The shut down dog is doing all he can – stop responding to a world that has become overwhelming. It is up to us to recognize that there is a problem, and relieve the pressure that the dog is feeling. Recognize that your dog is not “stubborn” or “stupid” or “lazy”, but that he doesn’t know what to do. Take a break, remove the dog from the environment that is causing the stress, and make it easy for the dog to succeed.

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