By: Laura Christiansen – National Dog Trainer of the Year – Canine Learning Centers
When your dog behaves in an unacceptable way it can cause you, the owner, to become stressed. Your
body reacts physically to stress in a number of ways and your dog will read your apprehension.
First, you will start to take rapid shallow breaths. This is the same way a dog breathes when
feeling nervous or worried. So, your breathing indicates there is cause for concern and your dogs’
breathing will change. You may even hold your breath for short periods when you think about things
going wrong as you enter a situation that worries you. The lack of oxygen to the brain and muscles
affects thinking and movement. Breathing this way causes the muscles to tense, held rigidly stiff.
This immediately changes your body posture; shoulders rise and are hunched up, body posture lowers
due to negative thoughts about the situation and the jaw will be held tight and stiff, the jaw line
and body posture are ways dogs use to communicate to one another; so again posture and tenseness
indicate to the dog that there is something to worry about. Also, your movements may become quick,
erratic and jerky which again passes fear signals to the dog. The 3rd thing that happens is your
voice changes, you speak faster in a higher, clipped tone of voice. Again, this will increase the
dogs’ anxiety for it is similar to the way a dog barks to indicate to the rest of the pack there
may be danger, (higher pitch, shorter barks). Reacting this way is perfectly normal for both humans
and dogs. In fact, a certain amount of stress reaction from the body is necessary to cope with many
situations. The important thing is to be in control of the stress reaction instead of the other way
When your dog sees you behave this way they will pick up the signals and quickly enter a stressed
state before they go into the situation that you are worried about. If the dog also has fear of
the situation they will react quicker than if they were relaxed and the behavior will be much worse
because of their high state of arousal.
Even if the dog is not fearful they can become confused about that you want because you will sound
different and have a tense body posture.
Fortunately, for humans, it is possible to control and change body reactions to stress. This may
not solve all problems with your dog but it will go a long way towards helping your dog and you to
focus and become more successful. The following exercises (from yoga) will help!
The olfactory sense comes from the most primal part of the brain and influences the nervous
system directly. It’s where we can change our emotional experience the quickest and easiest.
That’s why aromatherapy works.
ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHINGIn alternate nostril breathing as you shift nostrils for breath flow you alternate sides of the brain, balancing the communication between them and stimulating both the sympathetic and
parasympathetic nervous systems – making you both calm and alert.
Close your eyes. Right thumb closes right nostril. Inhale left. Retain breath with ring finger and
thumb closing off left nostril. Exhale right. Inhale right. Retain. (Just 4 – 5 seconds to begin,
holding longer as your stamina increases. Exhale left. Repeat 4 – 5 times on each side. End
breathing out both nostrils.
Sit comfortably, close the eyes. Notice the natural rhythm, depth and quality of breath.
Draw a big breath filling the belly. Exhale – imagining the whole front of the body letting go,
relaxing. Draw a big breath to the back of the ribs. Exhale, imagine the whole back of the body
letting go. Notice the natural rhythm, depth and pace of breath.
Stand with arms at your sides (palm turned in) with partner standing behind you. Partner
presses in on your hands while you press arms away from your body. Hold 5 seconds. Release and
repeat 2 more times. Switch roles with partner. This exercise may be done using a doorway.
Let the head fall softly forward to the chest. Take 8 – 10 breaths letting the neck begin to
stretch. Slowly inhale and roll the right ear toward the right shoulder. Pause. Inhale and
slowly roll the left ear toward the left shoulder. Pause. Exhale and roll the head back to
center. Repeat 3 times on each side.

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