©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
The title of this article is a question I am asked in one form or another almost every day. “Can my anxiety make my dog more nervous?” The short answer to this question is an undeniable “yes”.
“When dogs see their owner with a hard body, it can make them nervous…”
Popular made-for-TV dog training shows and the dog trainer actors on them (e.g., Cesar Millan, etc.) would have you think there is some sort of mystical magic going on that your dog has otherworldly abilities to sense when it comes to their owner’s anxiety. They want you to think there are “vibrations”, “energy”, and “auras” that your dog has special psychic abilities to interpret.
What a crock! Balderdash! Nonsense!
Owners can make their dogs more nervous, but how they do so is not really all that hard to understand. The reasons are explainable, observable and preventable. I’ve listed a few of the more common ways nervous dog owners make their dogs more stressed below. This is certainly not a complete list however.
Command-Crazy Dog Owners
This one actually sucks the life energy out of dogs. It also sucks the life energy out of me when I have to observe dog owners doing it. What is it? It’s those tense dog owners who are constantly giving their dogs rapid-fire commands (or cues). “Sit, stay, look at me, come, leave it…” You don’t have to be a dog behaviorist to know the dogs on the receiving end of this don’t know how to respond to this banter from their owners. All of this non-stop chatter from the owners only serves to make the dog more anxious. It makes me anxious just listening to it too.
Use cues or commands sparingly with your dog and say them softly. For more information, see Should you give your dog a command only one time?
Masters-of-Micromanaging-the-Leash Dog Owners
You’ve seen this a thousand times - maybe you even do it yourself. These are uptight dog owners who are constantly jerking their dog’s leash to guide, correct and punish their dog while the dog is being walked. Can you imagine having a collar around your neck and some giant continually jerking it one way or another for 30 minutes without stopping? Obviously, this kind of physical input through the leash creates stress for the dog. I’ve found that many dog owners do this unconsciously. They’ve been snapping the leash to-and-fro for so long they do it without even knowing it. Poor dogs!
Learn how to properly manage the leash with your dog. For more information, see What Is Leash Frustration? and Free Preview Available | My Dog is Out of Control on the Leash.
Statue-of-Liberty Dog Owners
These jittery dog owners are so nervous around their dog that they look like a statue in the eyes of their dog. Dogs are very good at reading human body language. One of the biggest cues they look for is how “hard” or “soft” our bodies are. Think about it for a second; when people are uptight or nervous, their body movements become rigid and mechanical (i.e., hard bodies). Conversely, humans who are relaxed and confident have soft bodies. Most experienced dog owners know that dogs also have hard bodies when they are stressed and have soft bodies when they are relaxed and happy. When dogs see their owner with a hard body, it can make them nervous because they interpret this to mean their owner must be stressed.
As guardians of our pet dogs, it’s important that we don’t project our anxiety on them. This is a good habit as dog parents because it enables our dogs to not only experience less stress, but it allows them to be more comforting to us.