Be More Patient with Your Dog & Deal with Frustrating Dog Problems

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As I reached for the door, Barley surged forward, wagging so hard that his tail hit his ears. I paused and glanced at him, and he struggled into a sit. His butt hovered off the ground for a moment, then planted. I opened the door and he looked up at me. “Ok.”

He surged forward as I called, “Get your cow, Barley!”

Even though his small squeaky toy was right at the base of the front porch steps, Barley charged towards the street. I realized as he was halfway across the yard what he was after.

A twig.

A twig that I threw across the street several hours before, then told him to “leave it.”

When I told him to “leave it” several hours ago, he laid down and stared at it. He didn’t audibly whine, but his eyes were straining ahead and his mouth was tight. He’s that obsessed with fetch.

be more patient Barley loves sticks
Barley really loves sticks. Like really, really loves sticks.
I forgot about the twig. But Barley didn’t.

“Barley, NO! Come!” I yelled, my voice sharp and harsh.

Barley turned on a dime and ran back to me, his body and head low, his tail tip wagging just a bit. In a flash of frustration, I grabbed him by the collar and tossed him inside. He yelped.

He immediately turned and put his ears all the way back, drawing his lips with them. His tail wagged from one ear to the other, his head low, and he licked the air as he stood on his hind paws, trying to reach my face.

For a dog who is normally not very touchy-feely, this was a big display.

I took a breath and made eye contact with Andrew, coming back to earth. He raised his eyebrows. I preach positive dog training for a living, yet I just yanked my dog so hard that he yelped. I said lamely, “He was running into the road after a f*cking twig.”

Andrew turned back to his work. I knelt and let Barley lick my face, repeating,  “I’m sorry,” to him. He picked up a toy and shoved it into my chest, ducking away from the pets.

After a few moments of attempted reconciliation, I left for yoga with a stone on my chest and a knot in my stomach. I’ve been snapping at Andrew and Barley a lot in the past 72 hours, and I was sick of my own behavior.

Why is it hard to be more patient?

I do a lot of my best thinking in yoga class. I know, that’s not the point of yoga. But I’m not yet very good at clearing my mind. Instead, I chew over my day’s problems.

Today, the problem was how to be more patient with Andrew and Barley. Since this is a dog training blogs, we’ll focus on how to be more patient with your dog.

I ran the events of the day through my mind several times. I know better than to punish Barley for listening to me. How asinine is that? I also strive to avoid fear and pain in all of my training practice – so what the h*ll was going on with me?

Finally, Applied Behavior Analysis floated into my mind. I slotted the events into a basic mental ABC chart.

Antecedent: Barley does something I don’t like. This generally looks like him performing an action that is contradictory to a cue I just gave.

Behavior: I lose my temper with Barley. This looks like me yelling or even grabbing at him.

Consequence: Barley offers appeasing behaviors and the unwanted behavior ceases. This looks like his tail wagging hard, him attempting to lick my face.

I got shivers down my spine. I already knew that punishment can be reinforcing. But I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t just regression to the mean that I was dealing with. It was also the fact that Barley’s appeasing behaviors were really nice for me. He’s normally a very hands-off sort of dog, actively ducking away from petting from strangers and even me. So when he tried to make amends after being scolded, that was often the cuddliest he’d ever be.

Even several hours after this realization, it still makes me really sad. Part of the reason that I scold my dog (even when I don’t want to and actively strive to be more patient) is that his attempts to make amends are pleasant for me.

We teach our dogs patience – but we don’t practice it much ourselves.
But that’s not the only reason it’s hard to be more patient.

While I sweated through some downward-dogs and star-pushups (Schole Yoga in Salt Lake City is a workout, let me tell you), I brainstormed other reasons that I failing at being more patient with my loved ones. Some read like excuses, others feel more valid.

  1. Barley’s appeasing behavior is nice. See above.
  2. I’m stressed. I’m on day seven of living a fully-remote lifestyle, and the adjustment has been relatively smooth. But I’m still a bit overwhelmed and trying to find my way into a new routine. (For more information on managing stress, visit BetterHelp – I used their online therapists while living in my car and traveling the world and found them super convenient).
  3. Barley is stressed. The constant moving is certainly hard on Barley, too. It doesn’t help that our AirBnb host has a Goldendoodle bitch in heat on top of all the other change!
  4. Lack of training practice. With this new fully-remote, full-time travel lifestyle, I’m not spending as much time training Barley. That means he’s pulling on the leash a bit more, listening a bit more slowly. He needs more training to continue improving compliance in new situations.
  5. Punishing is rewarding. I already mentioned this. See the fighter pilot example in this article.
  6. It’s what I was taught. While I’ve almost always been a (mostly) positive reinforcement based dog trainer, I’ve watched boyfriends, teachers, law enforcement, parents, friends, and families stop unwanted behavior through punishment. We coerce each other all the time, and our society teaches us that losing our cool is expected.
  7. I panicked. As Barley bee-lined towards the road, I was afraid. Losing my dog to something as stupid as a car accident when I should have just had him on a leash is one of my worst nightmares. Fear and frustration don’t help us make good choices.
  8. I wanted to make sure that Barley got my point. This reason rings true, though I hate to admit it. I was so afraid, so angry, that I wanted Barley to really get my point. The point wasn’t well made – I effectively punished Barley for listening to me. But in the split second where I yanked Barley forward by the collar, the primal version of me was trying to make a point to my dog.
  9. I’m concussed. Really. I got a concussion just 9 days ago, and my brain is still healing. This makes me a bit more irritable, a bit more impulsive, and a bit less smart.

When you are trying to be more patient with your dog, you might have a different list of reasons for your struggles. But hopefully, my list will help get your mind going on some potential reasons.

border collie laptop toy crazy dog
Patience is key when you live with a dog. Barley drops slobbery toys onto my laptop too often to admit.

How to be More Patient with Your Dog

Here, we’ll go step-by-step through each of the eight reasons I found it hard to be more patient with Barley today. I’ll give some suggestions for ways to deal with these underlying reasons that it’s hard to be more patient, and then we’ll close with my game plan going forward.

  1. It’s nice when our dogs “try to make amends.”

    Deal with it by finding different ways to bond with your dog. While that brief reconciliation after you scold your dog might feel nice, it’s a bit poisonous. Instead of seeking that closeness through conflict, find another way to get that closeness. For me, that means capitalizing on Barley’s early-morning cuddles as much as I can. Get that serotonin and oxytocin where you can. You can also teach your dog a “hug” cue, which gives you physical closeness without the initial conflict.

    The tendency of finding extreme closeness after a conflict is why you see so many relationships in high school (and beyond) constantly yo-yo from fight to make-up. It’s why those relationships are hard to break off.

  2. It’s hard to be more patient when you’re stressed.

    Find different ways to de-stress. This will look different for everyone, but it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re stressed enough to be snapping at your dog or loved ones, you need a change in your life.

    Help yourself out by exercising (really, try it – runner’s high is real), meditating, doing some yoga, taking a nap, going out with friends, journaling, the Pacifica App, drinking a glass of wine, or getting out into nature.

    If you’re just frustrated with your dog specifically, walk away. It’s ok to recognize that you’re too stressed or frustrated to deal right now. I do this when Barley sniffs really good girl-dog pee and starts drooling and teeth-chattering. This drives me irrationally bonkers. Like, it makes my skin crawl to just think of it. In order to avoid yanking him around by the leash, I will close my eyes and take a few deep breaths and mentally remove myself. If we’re not on a walk, I just walk away. If needed, I’ll tell Barley to stay where he is.

  3. Stressed dogs aren’t always good dogs.

    When your dog is stressed, your dog is less likely to be on his best behavior. He might not be able to focus on training and he might revert to old “problem behaviors” that are actually calming mechanisms (like chewing on things, barking, or digging).

    Help your dog out by using some calming treats, working on a relaxation protocol, giving your dog some off-leash time in nature (if safe and practical), and letting your dog engage in de-stressing behaviors like chewing, running, and sniffing.

  4. We don’t always make enough time to train our dogs.

    It’s funny how just when our dogs need training the most, we’re least able to spend time training them? Make time for training by doing micro-training sessions while food is in the microwave or you brush your teeth, taking treats on walks and working on basic training out in the world, or teaching your dog to “stay” while you get chores done around the house.

  5. Punishing is rewarding.

    You know that “rush” you get while you fight with a loved one, the self-satisfaction of being a bit cruel to a little sibling, or the gritty pleasure of road rage? It can feel good to be mean.

    Deal with it by recognizing that pleasure and inserting a different response instead. For example, when you’re tempted to yell because your dog is on the counters again, take a deep breath and call your dog away from the counters. Your result is the same – the dog is off the counters. You won’t feel guilty, and your dog is much happier. This can take practice, but really try to feel the difference between the two responses.

  6. We learn to use punishment to get what we want.

    My solution for this is essentially above. When trying to reduce punishment in our lives, we need to find new ways to redirect behavior and reward others for a behavior that we like better. Beating ourselves up doesn’t help.

  7. We punish when we panic.

    A surge of adrenaline is rarely good for clear-eyed and even-headed decisionmaking. Strive to make redirection and rewarding an alternate behavior your default response and it will be easier to “reach” for the kinder response when you’re not thinking clearly.

  8. Punishment feels like it really gets the point across.

    To be honest, this feeling probably exists for two reasons. One, it’s true. Punishment works – that’s why we don’t reach for the red-hot pan time and time again. Two, punishment feels good, so we rationalize it by saying that it’s necessary. Both of these ideas are mostly true. My argument isn’t that punishment doesn’t work (or even that we should never, ever punish a behavior). Rather, aim to reduce punishment in your life and be more patient by recognizing when you can redirect a dog, reward a different behavior, and thinking about exactly why you want to punish at that moment. If you want to punish just because it’s reactionary and it feels good, don’t.

    But if you want to punish because you truly just want to interrupt a behavior and there’s not a reasonable and better way to do it, go for it. Just do no harm. An example of this might be leaving the room when your dog barks at you (negative or removal punishment) or saying “no” to save the roast beef without scaring the dog.

  9. Concussions don’t help.

    I’d advise against getting a concussion if you want to be more patient. If you are concussed, do your best to heal. That means spending less time exercising, drinking, or looking at screens. Concussion recovery sucks – best just not to get one.

The more patient I can be with Barley (and Andrew), the more fun we’ll have in our adventures!

My Game Plan Going Forward to be More Patient with my Dog

Now that I’ve gone way too far into some potential fixes for some potential underlying reasons for my outburst today, let’s go over a game plan to be more patient.

  1. Come prepared with treats and set up training scenarios. I love training Barley. Even if training didn’t help the behavior problem at hand, training alone helps both of us feel better. I also can use training to specifically work on recalling Barley away from twigs.
  2. Spend more time away from Barley. While we’re living on the road, I’ve been within a few feet of Barley almost around the clock. I just signed up for a week-long free trial at a local yoga studio, which packs the double punch of giving me some structured yoga time and time away from Barley.
  3. Yoga. See above.
  4. Hitting the trails more. Hiking repairs my relationship with Barley and gives us both a big stress release. I’m going to hike 3-4 days this week. Salk Lake City has some amazing off-leash hiking trails just 20 minutes from my rental.
  5. Continue focusing on redirecting behavior (my own and that of my loved ones) and rewarding incompatible behaviors. This has been a big focus for me for a while, but I always need more work.

Oh, and I’ll try to just be less concussed.

I jest.

What did I miss? How can we all be more patient with our dogs and loved ones?

20 thoughts on “Be More Patient with Your Dog & Deal with Frustrating Dog Problems”

  1. I love this post and identified with everything about it— except for the concussion. Get better soon and all best to you and your Barley boy. Thanks for such a high value blog.

  2. Thanks for the information, love your story. My dog Henry and I have our days, mostly positive. Everything you state is fact, thanks for the confirmation of my practices. I will continue to be patient with myself and with Henry. It’s nice to know I am going in the right direction with training Henry, not perfect but my heart is in the right place. I love my Henry.

  3. I found this post because I googled “how to be more patient with my dog” as I’ve been feeling extra irritable and snappy with both of ours lately and I don’t like it! I really like your tips and didn’t realize the “make-up” cuddles are part of a negative feedback loop so I’m going to work on getting those cuddles in other situations. Also, I live in SLC and love love LOVE hiking with the doggos in Millcreek or on the Bonneville Shoreline trail. It is so awesome to have it so close! I hope your nomadic lifestyle is treating you well 🙂

    • Ah, I’ll be back to SLC soon for those hikes. They’re so gorgeous. I’m really glad that the post helped you. I re-read it from time to time, too. We all get cranky, and sometimes it’s for no good reason!

  4. I know this goes back a couple of years… but thank you so so much for sharing it. I’m a dog lover and thought myself pretty good towards dogs. But the new puppies we have have been making me lose my patience more often than not and I don’t recognize myself with them when I get frustrated. This post gave me some great insight, and I don’t feel like my owner-pet relationship is lost cause. Thank you so so much

  5. Thanks so much for your honesty. YouTube videos make dog ownership look easy, clean and barrels of fun ALL the time. There indeed are great times and moments. There are also frustrations and fatigue. Sometimes I think I’m the worst owner then I remember that she was a rescue adoption. That I feed her well and consistently. She has a supply of toys to instantly destroy when handed to her. She gets treats. Walks. Dog park visits. Balls thrown to her in the house and backyard. She gets the majority of my bed, has her own blanket, two dog beds and every other pampering. She has a raincoat. Gets brushed most days and gets treats. She has my ever present attention to keep her from harms way. She has a great vet. She is loved. When I think about these things I can forgive myself for my shortcomings because in the end…she’s living a good life. She’s a good girl and I’m only human. Thanks for showing us the human side.

  6. Thanks, even though this is two years old, it’s still very relevant. Buckley is a three month old Smooth Fox Terrier and is in daily behavior training. But there can be “dust ups”. I’m working to “let go” of the things that might annoy me and focus only on “safety issues” that might injure him or me. And, also reinforcing what he’s learning at school. He’s ALL terrier, lacks focus and the training has been immensely helpful. I do workout every day (ha) and I know that lets me de-stress. I’m working to make sure we keep an even keel with each other and, if there are slips, that we both understand what happened and work to not sweat the small stuff (he doesn’t chew furniture and he knows how to signal he needs to go outside, so we are well on our way!)

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Mark! It sounds like you’ve got great perspective for Buckley and I’m sure you’ll get there. Just remember to breathe and do the next right thing 🙂

  7. Not sure you still reply to these comments since this was posted a while ago but I’m really having trouble with my foster dog of 6 months and so stressed and frustrated. Within the last month he’s started demand barking at both me and my boyfriend. He had gotten better with mouthing but has now reverted back to mouthing us and blankets and pillows when he wants attention. He has plenty of toys. I give him food puzzles, kongs, bully sticks, tried time outs. You name it. I am very attentive with him. We run up to 3 miles some mornings or walk for an hour if we don’t run plus evening walks. And I’m home most of the day to be outside with him and play when he wants. We keep him out of his crate for the longest 4 hours a day during the week and he has started getting things on the counters and tearing things up if I leave them out. I’m at a loss as I feel we do ample training daily and I don’t see how he can be bored. Any advice?

    • Hmm, I wonder if he actually needs to learn to RELAX? I agree, it sounds like you’re giving him a lot and he’s potentially becoming a bit of an adrenaline/activity junkie. Have you tried anything so far to really teach him to settle down, be still, entertain himself?

  8. Hi Kayla,
    We bought our German Shepard puppy for our kids 15 and 17. They’ve always wanted a dog and I thought it was important for them to have the experience as well. They’ve been great. However, it has turned my life upside down. I love dogs but it’s especially difficult now since he’s a puppy. I’m anxious all time and depressed, partly because my familiar, comfortable life is now gone or that I’ll fail with his training because of my impatience or frustration. I’ve had dogs before but have always had regrets of things I shouldn’t have done or things I could have done better. I really want this to work. Any advice?

  9. Hi Kayla! Thank you so much for this article, I really needed it tonight. May I ask for some advice? I’ve got a 16 year old senior chihuahua/dachshund mix that just drives me nuts. I’ve had him since he was a puppy and within the last year, I don’t recognize him anymore. He spends forever sniffing around the backyard to come inside and poop on my couch. Every. Day. I try to take him for walks in the evenings as he’s going blind and he just wants to stop and stare at me and not walk. Then, as soon as he gets home he launches himself around the house and jumps *feet* into the air so I know he’s not in pain and feeling stiff and achey. He’s very active and flexible when he wants to be. I feel so guilty as I get so frustrated as he’s not the dog I raised him to be. I know some of his behaviors are old age and I sympathize with him and try to accommodate the best I know how. I’m just really frustrated with his lack of discipline and forgetting his manners. He even bully’s our other dogs and tries to take their food which is something he never did before either. How would you work to be more patient? Should I not take him on walks anymore? They’re short to begin with as I don’t want to exhaust him, but I also don’t want to force him into doing something he might not enjoy. I’m also newly pregnant with my first so I think that definitely adds to my frustrations. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi Jessica! I think a good thing to consider here is whether you want to work on your mindset, his behavior, or both. If you want to identify the specific problems to address, then we can go about preventing/changing those behaviors (though this can be hard with older dogs simply because they’ve been practicing them for years or they’re age-related). But if that doesn’t really seem worth the trouble due to his age, we can still prevent problems and also work on your mindset. Does one of those approaches make more sense to you than the other?


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