When a dog feels unable to escape and has too much pressure put on it, it will then resort to solving the problem itself - either becoming "aggressive", freezing on the spot, or displaying other default stress behaviours.
The solution to this problem is to closely monitor your dog's behaviour and signals, and offer it a viable escape route the moment your dog begins to signal its unease. This requires forward planning and fast thinking, but it is amazing how quickly handlers learn to sum up potential situations and act accordingly. You can see their dogs actually sighing with relief when they realise that they no longer have to make all the decisions and can enjoy being a dog at last!
I can almost hear some of our readers saying "you are mollycoddling the dogs and letting them be in charge".
No - we are not "giving in" to the dog, we are protecting it and developing a bond of trust and understanding between both dog and human. Once we have gained the dog's trust it will be more confident in stressful situations and, over a period of time, we can gradually reintroduce it to these stressful triggers (if they are really unavoidable).
First you need to reduce its long-term stress levels and then allow the dog to become accustomed to the situation from a distance, always providing the dog with an escape route if it feels it cannot cope. By offering this route, the dog becomes more confident and rarely feels the need to actually escape, once it has been given a choice.
Here are some examples of Escape Routes -
Here is an example of a well managed agility ring for beginner dogs, run by EMDAC.
The ring is almost entirely enclosed with netting, offering protection from other dogs suddenly running into the ring and breaking the inexperienced dog's confidence while it is negotiating the agility equipment.
As you can see the entrance is well managed - each dog has plenty of personal space while it waits its turn, and does not feel threatened by nearby dogs.
Meanwhile, here is the exit at the other side of the ring.
When a dog finishes its agility run its adrenaline levels are high from the excitement and exercise. The last thing it needs is to have other excited dogs near by, who will wind it up even more! This may result in default stress behaviours.
As you can see this netted exit is an ideal solution. There are no dogs nearby and so the handler can quietly praise their dog as they come out the ring, and take it calmly back to the exercise area to walk about, read the newspaper, and lower its adrenaline levels naturally. This calm finish area also encourages latent learning, so that the dogs are far more likely to retain in their long-term memory what they have done and learnt in the ring.
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