They lure you in with their good looks and charm. You spend countless hours together in the house, easily enjoying each other’s company. Yet, the instant you walk outside or have a friend come into your condo; your dog backs away, trembles and sometimes growls. If only people saw the wind-up tail bounding to you as you walk through the door or the silly face he or she makes when dropping a toy in your lap. Just because a dog is silly and fun, does not mean he or she is fearless.
They come in all shapes, sizes and breeds and it can be confusing. In the confines of your home or with your dog’s favorite friends (furry and non), he or she is confident, happy and up for anything fun. But, no matter how much you tell him or her it’s ok, you can’t convince your sassy, sensitive dog that your brother in-law is not out to get him nor can you get him to budge for his morning pee down your busy street, even though he’s been out there a million times.
To help the world see your dog’s sweet-natured side, you need to do two things: be the leader and tell the truth.
Being a leader does not mean slamming, kicking or forcing a dog into submission. Leaders protect and they do so all the time, not just when people are watching. Practicing simple exercises like “sit” for greetings, “bed” for mealtimes and “wait” for toys, food and life’s many other goodies, help the sassy, sensitive type learn to look to you for what he or she wants. If your dog is looking to you for good stuff, he or she is more likely to look to you when a precarious situation arises. We lose sight of that when our sassy, sensitive dog acts silly and we reward nudging or barking because well, we are just excited to see them be themselves. However, we do our dogs a huge disservice when we act like their puppies in one moment then expect them to look to us in another moment.
Telling the truth. I recently attended a webinar on Separation Anxiety presented by Malena De Martini-Price, CTC and she made a brilliant point. If we are conditioning our dogs to feel comfortable being alone for let’s say five or ten minutes and they are learning they will not be alone for hours on end; we lie to them when we leave them alone for three hours. If your dog is sassy with friends he or she knows and trusts and you work hard 90% of the time on thoughtful approaches to new people then let Uncle Ned or your 2-year old niece corner your dog you are basically lying and undoing much of your hard work. The trust you build is gone when your dog is in a position he or she has to defend themselves, even once. If approaches make your dog nervous, be honest with your dog and say politely to the person, “my dog does not want to say hi” or coach him or her on the best way to greet your dog.
Help your sassy, sensitive dog learn to look to you for good things, reward behaviors that encourage looking to you and when in a stressful situation, you might just have a less jittery dog who will start to show the world that goofy smile you know and love.