• Kristen Renaud

Day Six - 30 Days of Dr. Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol

February 3, Day Six

Kirby's training went really well today. We worked up to the hardest task of the day - leaving through a door and staying out of view for 10 seconds before returning through the door to the dog.

Based on our previous training on day five I thought that Kirby would struggle with me actually going through the door. So, just as I did with day five, I worked her up to the door task by breaking it down into manageable pieces before even attempting to go through the door.

Throughout the training session I scrutinized all of Kirby’s body language for stress signs. During this training session it dawned on me that even with my experience working with dogs, it can still be confusing to read dog body language. It inspired me to craft a post about dog stress signals when training. Below is a brief breakdown of the main stress / discomfort body language I typically look for when training Kirby.

Lip Licking: Dogs often flick their tongue or quickly lick their lips when nervous. Please note that you must pay careful attention to discern if this is licking after a treat you just delivered or licking from nerves. I usually determine it is stress related if I see the lip licking when no treats have been given or it is constant.

Body Freezing / Tense Body: Check if your dog is still in a position that looks relaxed and comfortable or if your dog is frozen in fear. Once you start to look for it you can see the difference pretty quickly.

Snapping at Treats: This one is difficult to tell, but you know your dog, trust yourself to see the difference. If your dog is quickly snapping at treats before the treats fall to the ground it can be a sign of stress. Often when Kirby is overstimulated she will snap at the falling treats several times before she gets them. Her mouth opens with such a snap it sounds like an alligator out to get the treats. This is totally different than when she happily laps them off the floor or playfully catches them. When she is stressed there is a frantic manner in which she grabs the treats.

Head Turn: Dogs often turn their heads away from something they wish to disengage with. Kirby will turn her head and look the other way when done with training or playing with a toy.

Yawning: Dogs often yawn as a stress reliever. If your dog is yawning between training tasks consider taking a break.

Ears Pinned Back: When dogs point their ears back it can often be a sign of stress. Sometimes it can be a noise or something behind them, but if it is consistent then this is a stress signal.

If you see these signs consider taking a break from training. It does not mean your dog doesn’t like training. Your dog may just need a brief pause, or to practice some cues they love to do. When you see these signs, take a moment, and put yourself in your dog’s shoes. Breaks can be a great way to keep training fun and positive.

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