Is Your Dog Stuck In An Emotional Dysregulation Cycle?

by Denise Mazzola, CPDT – KA

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

When you take your dog out for a walk, she is pulling you down the road while she is barking, lunging, and growling at almost every dog and person she sees. It’s so embarrassing.

You’ve become a member of the midnight dog walkers club, walking your dog in the wee morning hours or late at night hoping beyond hope that you won’t see anyone. 

You’ve stopped having guests over because you are so worried your dog will bite someone and need to be put down. When you did have family and friends over you asked everyone to feed her cookies, but she still growled at them. So, you started to meet them outside with her on a leash and you tried again to have everyone give her treats, but she was still unpredictable once you went. Then you just put her away in another room and all she did was bark and dig at the door for HOURS!  

Forget about relaxing with the TV on because as soon as any animal is on the screen, your dog is charging at the TV, barking, and growling and it’s a hundred times worse if it’s a dog on the screen.  

Car rides are a thing of the past because your dog is barking and growling at people and other dogs she sees when going on errands with you. 

You can’t help but feel like you’ve done something wrong.

I can assure you that you haven’t done anything wrong, as a matter of fact, I can pretty much bet you’ve done a few of the following to try to fix the behavior all which speak to your dedication. 

    •  You’ve hired more than two trainers.

    •  You’ve watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos.

    •  You’ve taken more than two obedience classes.

And still, your dog is growling, lunging, and maybe even biting. 

What do all these behavior problems have in common?

 

Emotional Dysregulation Cycle (EDC)

Most dogs who are barking, lunging, and growling in these circumstances are trapped in an Emotional Dysregulation Cycle (EDC), where their nervous system is overwhelmed and short circuiting which causes them to stay stuck in fight or flight mode. 

When people or dogs are in fight or flight, we can only think about the next 10 to 30 seconds. No wonder you can’t get your dog’s attention on walks or get them to be calm in the house or the car. 

Think of your dog’s Emotional Regulation as the foundation on which everything else is layered. Without Emotional Regulation, anything else you try won’t be nearly as successful until your dog has learned to be calm. 

A pie crust is the foundation on which the pie is made. If you burn the crust (unintentionally of course) it won’t matter what you fill the pie with, every piece of pie will be ruined.  

Reactive and aggressive dog behavior is multi-layered and there is never just one thing that will solve the issue. When we stay focused on the barking, lunging, and growling, we forget to ask the most important question, “Why is my dog behaving this way?” The biggest “Why” is that your dog is suffering from an Emotional Dysregulation Cycle. But we also need to look at four other important areas; genetics, past experiences/trauma, their environment, and health. 

What can you do?

Your first goal is to get your dog’s nervous system regulated again. This is going to go against the grain of what you’ve been told by everyone and read about on social media. 

You need to stop doing things.

Stop walking your dog. Every time your dog has a reaction, her nervous system is triggered repeatedly. Stop taking her to doggie daycare. Doggie daycare is the most emotionally dysregulated place your dog can be. Stop letting her bark out the windows of your house or apt. Give her a time out anytime she barks, growls etc, and do the same for any behavioral infractions concerning the TV. 

Your dog needs you to step up to the plate and help her feel safe and secure. Be her upper management with clear boundaries and expectations. Dog training today is not about obedience, it’s about giving your dog’s brain the necessary feedback it needs so she can learn to be calm and let you handle these situations. 

Being calm is like having a perfectly browned pie crust that makes all the fillings taste that much better!

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been working with people and training dogs for over 30 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH as well as online services to clients throughout the United States.

Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for Everything Dog’s Monthly Newsletter. She also contributes to AtHome magazine, and APEX award winner. She has been an expert witness for dog attacks. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with two dogs. She has three adult daughters and two grandsons!

For more information, visit www.everythingdognh.com. On YouTube at Everything Dog.

Denise Mazzola

Denise Mazzola

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