Try these simple tips to walk stress free with your dog in no time!
1. Change your mind, change your dog
When we have a dog that is a little harder to handle on walks or in certain situations we can become conditioned to expect this behaviour EVERY TIME! When this happens, as soon as we see ourselves and our dogs in a situation where we expect this stressful behaviour to occur, before its even happened, we imagine this negative behaviour happening and take defensive action which can initiate the undesirable behaviour in our dogs.
Unfortunately for us, the universe can’t picture a negative! When we think to ourselves, “don’t bark!”, “don’t lunge!” or “don’t do this or that” all the universe, and our dogs get from us is just the opposite, “bark!”, “lunge!” etc etc.
So how do we get around this and the crazy universe? Easy! We change our minds!
Changing the way you think can greatly improve your dogs behaviour and ability to cope in situations. It also helps you to reward your dog for the behaviour you want rather than behaviour you don’t want. Next time you find yourself and your dog in one of these stressful situations, adjust your thinking, imagine a calm dog, imagine the behaviour you want.
2. Take a Breath
Don’t be scared to exhale! One thing I can promise you, is that if you exhale you will definitely inhale again… you won’t die!
Changes in our breathing can be a HUGE pre-curser to our dogs behaviour. When we hold our breath, our dogs do too. It’s amazing how much our best friends can be so in tuned to us and our feelings.
Not only does holding our breath restrict airflow through our lungs it also causes a chain reaction in our bodies that include our muscle stiffening and can potentially activating the sympathetic nervous system, the system that controls our ‘fight and flight’ responses.
Being aware of your breathing and replacing stressed breathing with relaxed breathing can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the system that controls our ‘rest and digest’ responses.
Next time you are stressing out a bit, take a deep breath in and a nice deep breath out and repeat. Not only will it help you relax, it will help your dog too!
3. Loosen your grip
Following on from Tip. 2, a side affect of holding a breath is muscle tension. When this happens, we usually transfer this tension to, and through the leash.
As soon as your dog feels a change is tension on their lead (their main source of communication from you!) they immediately adjust their behaviour response to the increased tension and stress on the leash. This usually activates their undesirable behaviour.
If it is safe to do so, try and keep the tension on the leash as relaxed as possible, this means where possible, holding the leash with as open hand as possible, relax your fingers and your elbow. It also helps to soften the tension on the leash as your purposefully exhale.
4. Fake it till you make it
So by now your thinking, yeah right, when I’m stressed i have the change my thinking, my breathing, and how I hold the leash – as if that’s every going to happen!
Well, I hear you! This is personally one of my favourite tips to my clients, and I definitely have used this many times myself! Even if you are totally stressing out about something or a situation, try you very hardest not to let is affect your dog. Even if that means faking your breathing, relaxing your muscles when everything else is screaming not too (again, only when safe to do so!) and trying your damnedest to imagine a positive behaviour!
You may not always get it right, and you might get one of these going and forget the rest and thats totally ok!
Thankfully our dogs love us, and are very forgiving!
5. Heart Hugs
One of my favourite TTouches to use in stressful situations! By doing this touch, you help you body come into heart coherence. What does this mean? It means that your body, thoughts and emotions are all in a balanced state.
Pretty awesome right?
So how do we do a ‘Heart Hug’?
When you can, stop and take a moment to re-balance.
Hold both your hands gently over your heart and move them in a circle and a quarter in a clockwise direction.
Focus on, controlling your breathing and letting go of your stress on the exhale. You can also take a moment to think of something you are grateful for whilst doing the circle.
The best thing about it? The energy emitted from our bodies during heart coherence can span up to 9 metres, which means our dogs get the benefit from all this amazing energy!