‘If we can just get through this one walk without seeing a dog…’ you know the script, right?
I love all of my dogs so much but there was a time where their behaviour was affecting my quality of life and my relationships as my obsession for helping them through the woofing war-zone, and finding spaces to work and walk in became evermore extreme and ridiculous.
Several times I’d arrive somewhere thinking ‘Finally! I’ve found the perfect place’, to then turn up the following day and find someone else had got there first. My search became more extreme, the places more isolated and walks occurring at ridiculous times of the morning. Even on my 5am walks, I didn’t always feel safe.
I would always take a short, sharp intake of breath before leaving, as if I was saying a prayer, wishing for the walk to go smoothly.
I wasn’t in the best headspace a few years ago, I had a lot of additional stress in my life, and that was before the dogs behavioural issues. I would often throw myself into work because I loved it so much, but I got stuck in a toxic productivity routine where I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. And when you don’t look after yourself, it’s an almost impossible task to look after anyone else effectively.
One of the main things I was missing in my training regime was freedom for the dogs. Most of our walks involved lead walking because of my own internal fear of ‘What if we meet something and I can’t get them back’
‘What would they do?’
I was reading some research the other day regarding whether or not dogs can in fact smell our fear and our own emotions rub off on them. It’s not uncommon for me to hear the words ‘It’s like they know’ or another classic ‘they don’t act like this for X,Y and Z. It’s just me’ …
Well, buckle up buttercup, because chances are your barking dog is acutely aware of knowing how you’re feeling.
Get geeky with me for a second, because science has already shown us, that our dogs can see and hear the signs of human emotions. Biagio D’Aniello from the University of Naples, Italy decided to study whether or not dogs could really pick up on emotional cues from humans.
I’ve mentioned before how we take our own sense of smell for granted, but when it comes to our dogs, they see their whole world through their noses. D’Aniello went on to say;
“The role of the olfactory system has been largely underestimated, maybe because our own species is more focused on the visual system. However, dogs’ sense of smell is far superior to ours.”
D’Aniello and his colleagues tested this theory and learned more about whether or not dogs could sniff out human emotions. First, they presented videos designed to either be distressful and fearful, happy vibes, or perhaps neutral responses, to the experiments volunteers, and the team collected samples of their sweat after watching them.
Next, these sweat and odour samples were presented to the dogs, and they monitored the responses and heart rates.
Dogs exposed to fear smells, showed more signs of stress than those who were exposed to the happy or neutral sweat samples. They also had higher heart rates, sought more reassurance from their owners and made less social contact with strangers.
The overall study suggested that humans can inadvertently hijack their dogs’ emotions through their own scents. So, when it boils down to this, there really is no fooling your dog.
What do we do about it?
What do you do if you think your own behaviour is affecting your dogs?
Well, it makes sense to me that if this is something you struggle with, then what we need to be doing is working on our own confidence levels just as much, if not more than any work we do with our dogs, right?
I knew full well when I went to Stanedge Edge with my friend, her dog Sprout, and my Mr Handsome Hunter, I caused the biggest reaction of the walk. Because I tensed up on the narrow path, I stopped walking and moving forward, I frantically wrapped the lead around my hand to prevent the lunging. And he reacted.
But that was the only reaction he had on the walk, because all other times I had, what I considered to be reasonable distances, where I could stay relaxed and didn’t tense up.
Read that again. The one and only time Hunter had a big barking reaction was when I tensed up and internally panicked.
The other times we had small lunges with some stares.
So, if your dog really can smell your emotions, how are you going to start building your own confidence in being able to better manage your barking dog, and find freedom to better both of your behaviours?