Time Outs for Dog Lovers

Dog Owner in Crate with Dog Relaxing Outside Crate

Dogs are amazing, we all adore dogs but how much is too much? Is there such a thing? Some dog/owner teams get the balance just right while others seem to be in need of an intervention. We talk about “hyper vigilance” in reactive dogs but many owners act the same way when it comes to fussing over their canine’s every perceived need or behavior. Much of the time dogs would be just fine if not for the stress cues of their owners. Can humans make their dogs more neurotic/aggressive/fearful or anxious by behaving a certain way? Is there such a thing as a codependent relationship between an owner and his or her dog? Most dog behavior professionals would say, “Yes” on both accounts.

It’s largely about energy and observation skills. For enlightened owners of reactive dogs, one of the most difficult things to do on walks out in the world is to “remain calm” themselves. That is so much easier said than done. Balancing advocacy for their dog with safety and training skills all while trying not to be distracted by the persistent thought of injuries and vet bills is a lot to ask. Let’s face it though - for maximum positive effect, owners need to stay sub-threshold themselves! Some owners come to Basic Skills & Manners beginner classes apologizing profusely for their dog’s “bad” behavior and repeatedly pointing out the negative things they see their dog doing within the first 10 seconds of the class. Without an interpreter, the dog wouldn’t stand a chance.

What if there was a magical place where hyper vigilant owners could go for a “time out?” A calm, nonjudgmental space where they could go to breathe and relax when they get too wound up and nervous and subsequently counter-productive for the task at hand. It could be a virtual crate, a metaphysical lounge of sorts where owners could get a cool drink, chill out with a magazine and some calming music. Just breathe and have faith that all is well...The Zen crate.

It just so happens I’m no stranger to this topic either. I’ve been “voted off the island” or summarily dismissed during dog related activities myself. Recently during a visit to my holistic vet with one of my fragile older dogs I was “asked to leave” or shall I say lovingly “banished” from the treatment area by my dear veterinary friend so that she could place acupuncture needles in a critical sensitive spot on my old vocal Greyhound girl. Greyhounds are famous for preemptive screams in situations like that and apparently my anxiety over the whole thing got me booted out. My old dog did just fine during the treatment without me and it surprised me to know that apparently I’m “one of those” clients in certain situations myself. Touché!

When all is said and done I’ll take a hyper vigilant time-out-needing dog loving fanatic over a disinterested, clueless or cavalier dog owner any day. Perhaps I should remember to bring my virtual Zen crate along with me next time in case of emergency, to generously share with fellow dog lovers.  When I’m not using it myself, that is.