Why is it that we humans so often feel insulted, disrespected, and devalued by information and feedback? This information may come in the form of a grade on a school paper, a comment from a co-worker, or a growl from our dog. Any little thing can trigger a cascade of emotions in us. We may feel angry, hurt, defiant, resentful, you name it. It’s not a very useful response as it often clouds our judgment and limits our ability to respond rationally. While it’s possible, though unlikely, that other humans may intend to hurt us or make us angry, that certainly isn’t the case with your dog. He doesn’t lay awake at night dreaming of ways to make you crazy. He doesn’t hate you or want to embarrass you in public to gratify his ego.
We really need to get over taking his behavior personally. Rather than “How dare you growl at me.”, we would be wiser and more effective with “Wow, wonder what brought that on? He must be really uncomfortable with something.” Then we can use our rational brain to (1) find the source of his stress, (2) remove the stress, and (3) formulate a plan to overcome the stress. Otherwise we’re just stuck feeling hurt, afraid, and angry, none of which are especially helpful in changing the situation and moving forward.
So next time your dogs does something you don’t like, stop and take a deep breath. Do a mental “step back” and ask yourself, “How might this look from the dog’s point of view? What can I learn from the feedback I just received? What can I change to help us be more successful next time?” Your dog will come to trust and respect you more if he knows he can give you feedback without you freaking out (that’s what he might think of your previous reactions). You will keep the lines of communication open and allow room for growth if you learn that “it’s not personal”. This also works well in our relationships with people. Give it a try.