We often assign many different labels to dogs, such as being the “Alpha”, being submissive and so on. I don’t believe that a dog is always the alpha, for example. We might observe assertive or submissive, fearful behavior - depending on the circumstances and the stimuli.
My understanding is that there are two primary modes for dogs which affect behavior: the feeling of safety and the feeling of danger.
Behavior is very strongly affected by how safe an animal feels. Feeling insecure can aggravate fears, or cause them to develop. Insecurity also undermines the ability to learn, and the stress it causes can have physiological as well as behavioral consequences. A sense of safety is vital to overcoming fear.
You’re probably aware of the term ” from the neck up”. This also applies to our canines. The main sensory experiences happen in the head region: sniffing, biting, chewing, licking, and of course vocalizing. When a dog is very fearful, they are often not aware of their body below the neck. You might see a rigid posture, cowering, possibly lunging, not being on all four feet, to name a few.
So how can we create a sense of safety for our dogs?
Here are some pointers:
Here is my dog Pablo modeling a TTouch half wrap - a thunder shirt is too overwhelming for his nervous system. He wore this wrap frequently in first year of living with us because he got over stimulated in a millisecond by pretty much everything - sounds, people, other animals.
Over time Pablo learned to reset his nervous system.
Does he still get over aroused? Yes, but less frequently.
Does he still go into autopilot with a sense of danger? Yes, once in a while, BUT he recovers - quickly.
Pablo has learned to relax! And it goes without saying that I love him to the moon and back.
Need more help? Work with a pet professional.
And now go fetch!
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Photo Credits: Kristin Zabawa, Malcolm Pullen, Nancy Yamin