Dealing with our dog’s frustration

My dogs are inside their crates working a juicy bone as they always do when I have a client at my place.

I finish up and I come to let them out. After leashing Rio up, we go outside.  The dogs love going outside to find out who was here and whether they left any treats on the ground.

Deuce is ahead of us and Rio and I are struggling. Okay I am struggling with trying to keep her to walking, and not running with her cast on. She is pulling hard and I am asking her to chill.

I begin to ask her to sit and when she can control herself a bit we walk, and then she sits and we walk, and she sits and we walk.  This sort of works, and as a result of not really working all that well, Rio is getting very worked up. Okay, I think, time to return her back to her “outside” crate as I cannot risk her injuring herself over this.

I put her in the crate and I go inside. She is not happy about this and begins to bark in sort of a complaining mode. Gosh, lots of sympathy for this girl, she does not understand why her world has been turned upside down, and from her perspective definitively not for the better. My heart sinks.  Rio, I tell her across the window, this is just a bleep in your very long life, you will not remember this time later on, you will be running and having fun as we do… Rio is still barking.

I am tempted to go outside and ask her – okay tell her to be quiet, because I am kind of embarrassed that she is creating such a ruckus at 2pm.  But then I stop.  I ask myself, doesn’t she deserve to express her frustration?  It is so clear to me (and those who know me well) that I would be the one expressing my frustration regularly if I was in Rio’s shoes.

This dog has been such a trooper thru her recuperation. She follows directions closely; I can put her on a down stay and she will stay put until I come back into the room. I can ask her to walk slowly and measured by saying “easy” as we sort of trot down the stairs.  She eats all her meals with gusto and appreciates the attention we give her, and her ability to still get on the sofa with us while supervised.

Yes. I conclude, Rio has every freakin’ right to express her frustration. I let her bark for a about a minute or so as I am peeking thru the window.  Then I come out and I invite her to come in for a treat in her containment area. She follows me excited about the prospect of getting something special- something Deuce will not get because he is still outside exploring, this indeed makes whatever it is more special.

After about 20 minutes of Rio settling back down, I put on her leash and we walk outside for the allowed time which is still very restricted.  She gets to sniff and look for treats closer to home.  I see her nose working overtime as she is completely absorbed trying to ascertain if she has met this dog before; if she has met my client.  Oh, would you want to know all that they can smell?  We sure know that dogs have exquisite sense of smell- especially if you are in the hound family as she partly is.

I regress. So back to dogs expressing frustration. One of the things to consider is if the dog is so frustrated that the dog is literally re-directing the frustration onto someone else, such as a person or another animal next to them. This of course is not want we want or should encourage.

Thus, paying attention to the behaviors that accompany the state of frustration is very important.  I would argue that frustration is closely related to overall arousal (an autonomic response of the nervous system) as such, when I am working with a dog that for whatever reason is expressing frustration I need to watch closely that the frustration is not preventing the dog from learning – our main objective.

The take-home message is that some frustration is totally acceptable and even expected when dogs are experiencing something that is frustrating to them:  access to another dog, a person, chase after a rabbit and the like.

Frustration is also part of learning something new, but again, if the dog is so frustrated when training then something has to change. Pronto!  Often I will give a dog an opportunity to collect itself by removing him from the training session as I assess how to best proceed.  This is important mostly when dealing with emotional issues including fear or anxiety. Knowing when too much frustration is detrimental to the well-being of the dog and the learning process requires experience and constant observation, but a great place to start is to observe what kind of behavior(s) is the dog engaged in when feeling the frustration.  This will provide a clear map as to how to proceed in most cases.