If your dog is barking, lunging or attempting to run away during your training sessions, it’s safe to say the training is too hard for them. But how do dogs tell us that training is too difficult in more subtle ways? The signs listed in this post are not comprehensive and are also context specific. That means if you see your dog doing any of these things during a session, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack up and leave right then and there. However, these signs should be noted and observed when they come up. If we notice them happening more often, or in specific moments, we may need to revisit some aspect of our training plan.
Sign 1: Sudden, out-of-place or frantic sniffing.
Sniffing is a normal and healthy behaviour for dogs, but when it seems to come out of nowhere, happens when a trigger is present or is frantic and difficult to interrupt, it might be a sign that your dog is stressed and doesn't know what to do with themselves.
Sign 2: Soliciting attention and/or jumping up on guardian "out of nowhere"
Often seen in separation anxiety training, a dog who was not particularly excited or interested in soliciting attention before training, but who suddenly needs attention right now in training set ups, might be trying to tell you that they are having trouble processing what is happening.
Sign 3: Inability to sit or lay down when nothing is happening.
While this can also be a sign that your dog is very excited or under-exercised, most dogs who are not suffering with stress or anxiety will be able to sit or lie down if nothing much is going on. Sometimes in training sessions, we can tell a dog is stressed if they are scanning the environment and unable to settle.
Sign 4: Subtly Moving Away from Trigger or Creating Distance
Often, our dog feels like they're a bit too close to their trigger, but is not worried enough to run away or is prevented from doing so. In these situations, you may see that your dog switches to your other side to create as much distance as they can.
Sign 5: Turning Away or Averting their Gaze
If we're working on decreasing the amount that your dog fixates or stares at their triggers, it can seem really great when they can easily look away from them. This is a great sign in many situations, however sometimes it appears that a dog is noticeably avoiding looking in the direction of the trigger. This is worth noting and may be a sign that your dog is feeling stressed.
Need help figuring out the best training plan for your fearful or reactive dog?
Tess Morgan is a certified dog behaviour consultant and trainer in London, Ontario and online. She specializes in working with dog reactivity, separation anxiety and fear.