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If I Could Teach a Dog 1 Thing…

I’ve often said  if I could teach a puppy or dog this one skill and learning that this would be it. But let’s be honest, I’d be pretty daft if I only taught a dog one thing!

Escape and Avoidance – it sounds pretty serious stuff, and to your dog it very well can be. Just about every dog owner in existence has probably accidentally or unknowingly pushed their dog into a situation they’re not comfortable with, many times without incident. The key thing to remember when we put our dogs into situations is a really important, simple fact…

“Our Dog has no idea why we’re doing any of this.”

What I mean by this is, we can’t give our dogs a heads up, a warning or an understanding of why they’re in the situation they’re in. They are at the complete mercy of where we take them and what we purposefully or accidentally expose them to.

It’s no secret that the internet, books and misinformed “trainers” have pushed and encouraged socialization to a point that now we’ve got an issue with too much in some cases. Puppies and even older dogs are being chucked into situations they’re not equipped to deal with all in the name of “socialization”. They’re not given the option to move away, leave or get much in the way of relief of a social event that could’ve gone a lot more positively with a bit more consideration to giving our dogs time to settle, learn and approach at a distance. It’s likely that this big push for socialization has had an influence on the growing number of ‘reactive dogs’ that we see more and more talk of.


So what is Escape and Avoidance?

At its very base level it’s choice. We are empowering our dogs and allowing them the choice to leave if/when they begin to feel stressed or uncomfortable with a situation. That might just be a matter of creating distance so our Pup can watch from a difference or it could be completely getting out of there so we can go and rethink how to approach the issue. If our dogs believe they can move away, believe they can get relief from a stressful event by avoiding it or walking away – they may never feel the need to bark, lunge, growl, bite or any other behaviours that they may learn to use in stressful situations.

It’s very easy create these events where our dogs feel trapped, unable to escape and helpless. It’s called a lead! When we pop a lead on our dogs we immediately remove a number of choices from them and in the case we take away the option to create space. Ask the person in your family who’s scared of spiders (It might be you!)…
How would your behaviour change if you went from being in a room with a spider where the doors were unlocked and you could readily leave to a room where you’re locked in with the spider.

In the first instance, most people would just leave the room – maybe scream (I find it’s often the biggest blokes that scream the loudest)

In the second instance you might throw things at the spider, scream some more, stamp on it or even just assume the foetal position in the corner of the room.

Remove the option of escape/avoidance and behaviour will begin to change. Most animals in this world will as a default avoid conflict, avoid fearful situations where possible, even the biggest, scariest predators. Fighting is costly, and even if you win you’ll probably end up with a few battle-wounds.

So next time you’re in the park with your pup, give him/her the option of a way out always. Let them know you’ve got their back and they’ll begin to trust you to deal with situations rather than take them into their own hands. So ignore the “Expert Pillock” in the park that tells you never to pick your dog up or to “Let them sort it out”. In this situation, smile smugly, thank them for their advice and move away – you need your own escape and avoidance too!


If you’re unsure of how your dog feels at times and would like to learn about their body language so you can understand it and know when to get out of there, check out these videos below.

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