I want to tell Ari’s story today. Ari is my 4 year old German Shorthair Pointer who we affectionately call “Raptor Face” because he would go for your face as a puppy like a bird of prey (lovingly of course). Anyway, Ari no longer goes for the face in a fit of puppy chewing rage instead he’s a pretty sweet and lovable guy. And he’s pretty well trained these days (he took longer than any of my other dogs… oh sporting dogs).
Ari taught me a valuable lesson as a dog trainer last summer. I swear I am constantly being humbled by crew and this was definitely one of those situations. Last summer I entered Ari in his fourth agility competition. He had three trials earlier in the year and had done pretty well. He had decent focus, was able to handle the distractions and was responsive. He even moved up to Advanced Gamblers after only two runs in Starters. I was so certain Ari was going to be an agility star.
At his fourth trial he wasn’t the same dog as he had been previously. We had practiced at this venue before so he was used to being there. It was the same group of people who had come to the previous trials. Everything should have been great but it wasn’t.
Ari wouldn’t look at me. He barely wanted his treats. He had zero interest in the agility equipment. Who was this dog? Ari wanted to run around, he wanted to smell and he wanted nothing to do with me or my partner James. We were at a loss.
I warmed up him with lots of obedience – lots of treats – lots of tugging. Everything I could to get him focused and nadda.
It took me two months to figure out what was going on with him. It should have taken me five minutes. I am a dog trainer and if it had been anyone’s dog but mine I probably would have clued in immediately.
You see Ari wasn’t being bad. He was purposely ignoring me. He was acting like a stressed dog. He wasn’t eating, he was offering displacement behaviour and he couldn’t focus. Classic stress. Happily I didn’t punish Ari for acting up that day instead James took him for a long walk and then we took him home.
Why was Ari stressed? Well one month before that fourth trial he had been attacked by a large off leash dog in my friend’s driveway while he was on leash. He was minding his own business and about to get into my car and he was jumped. He was injured too. So the next time we were around other dogs was at the trial (besides the dogs he’s already friends with). He was uncomfortable being in that busy environment and couldn’t perform.
Ari is bouncing back nicely. We played disc with a friend’s dog (new dog to him) just two weeks ago but it took us months and months of work to even get that far. He hasn’t been back to another agility trial since but we still practice. He’s quite good at it in practice too!
So the next time your dog is being bad – ask yourself “is my dog stressed?”. It might not be something as dramatic as a dog attack that makes your dog stressed. It can be something so minor you miss it. It’s always a good idea to step back from the situation and analyze what your dog’s body language and behaviour is telling you.