Last weekend I was teaching Worked Up, as I often do on the weekends. I told two people whose dogs I worked hands-on with that they should take a break from their chosen sports while they worked through some problems.
I hate telling people that because they hate hearing it. They get upset, and then I go home, and they are left to make some big decisions on their own. This is not an ideal circumstance.
But the truth is that if you are having some big behavioral concerns in one context, it makes sense to remove your dog from that context. And if that removal can’t be permanent (or if you just don’t want it to be) you still need it in order to repair the damage.
Hear me: I know this is a bummer when the context in question is the dog sport you love. But the pool analogy stands: if you’re drowning the first thing you need is to get your head above water. If your dog can’t look at agility equipment without barking, spitting, spiraling and becoming an all-out mess, this is the same thing.
Handlers can learn to test their dog’s ability to function in any given environment, and that’s a large part of what’s Worked Up is about. They can also give their dog a language in which the question can be asked “are you ready and willing to do this work now?” and get a legitimate answer. The problem arises when the answers we find will always be that our dogs are too spun up to think and way too high to consent. This is when some reconditioning must occur. This is when we have to take a break.
So if I’ve ever told you to take a break, it wasn’t because I wanted to hurt you, or because you can’t ever go back. It was because I can’t help you (you can’t help your dog) unless you do. Sometimes we have to be willing to take that step back from the game in order to help our teammate. You’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish if you just stop practicing the troubling behaviors your dog has learned.