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Saturday, July 10, 2010

What Dogs and their Handlers Need to Know about Stress

(c) Carrie Boyko

We've all heard it. Cesar Millan talks about it on every episode. But do we believe it? An owner's energy transfers to her dog. Boy did I get that lesson slapped in my face last night. Here's my story of taking the Canine Good Citizen Test with my 3 dogs.

While Oliver was transfixed on the views from his new booster seat, his attention was diverted from my nervous energy, as we approached the test site. Good for Oliver, and he's loving his new perch.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the clouds unloaded on us--pouring rain and thunder. Our outside venue was on a lakefront. Take one guess who arrived at the lakefront after the rain. Ducks! Tons of them, flapping their wings, chasing bugs in the grass and splashing around in the puddles.  Tanner's Golden Retriever DNA kicked in and he was in duck retrieving mode. For the entire evening, there was no getting him to focus. My "sure thing" dog and I failed the test, largely because I got nervous over his excitement. Okay, maybe there were a few other factors in play, but nevertheless, my nervous energy played a strong role.

Xena, my nearly 14 year old Retriever mix, had an exemplary performance. With no preparation, just going on my gut and her training from 13 years ago, she was able to complete all but one of the exercises satisfactorily. Perhaps because of her recent arthritis, she was unable to perform a 'down'. How can I fault her for that? I'm proud of her. She's a champ for a 95 year old senior citizen. You go, girl!

Looking back on her test later that evening, I realized that, with Xena, I had no nerves. I did not expect her to pass, having received no preparation. I simply thought she would tag along and practice her skills in the test format. She showed me! My relaxed demeanor with her paid off in droves, and all because I didn't expect her to pass; there was no stress.

Surprisingly, my ultra-friendly, Oliver, was calm, cool and collected. The ducks didn't phase him. He's a companion dog--people focused and dog friendly. Knowing that he has always had a habit of popping up to greet humans, I was completely prepared for him to fail this part of the test. Once again, I went into the test with no stress, because in my mind, I already knew the verdict. Oliver fed off my calmer energy and showed me to be wrong, just as Xena had. He passed the test with flying colors and is now a Canine Good Citizen, a certification that comes from the American Kennel Club. Oliver's got bragging rights over at 5 Minutes for Fido today. Hope you'll stop in and see what my pups are blogging about.

Tanner? Maybe next time. He's ready in so many ways, yet his DNA still has a heightened place in his life--something that will get in his way of becoming a CGC certified dog.  And that's not to mention his handler; I'll have to keep working on my calmer energy to be sure he stays focused on me, instead of all the distractions at the test site. We'll keep working on it. 

How about you? If you'd like to learn more about this certification, you can read my post, The Canine Good Citizen: More than Just a Certificate. Good luck.

Oliver's new booster seat was provided as a promotional courtesy 
by Pet Auto Safety. Watch for our review, coming up soon. 
Help protect our precious dog parks
© Carrie Boyko, all rights reserved

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