The rescue was sitting next to my dog training client—upright and alert. The woman and her stressed dog spotted the stranger at the same instant. Nervous that her dog would erupt into frenzied barking the woman started a stream of quiet “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay.”
Laughing lightly I said, “Um, let’s skip that.”
“Skip what?” she asked.
” ‘It’s okay,’ ” I answered.
She looked confused.
“Here’s the thing,” I explained. “We say, ‘It’s okay’ at the vet. ‘It’s okay’ at the groomer. ‘It’s okay’ when you pick up the nail clippers. We never say, ‘It’s okay” when it is actually okay. We use it when we are nervous about something and the dog? The dog ‘catches’ our nervousness like a behavioral cold. Anxiety is highly contagious!”
The woman laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that!”
Notice yourself if you start to say it. Notice that you are nervous but silence the words. Those words can quickly become a trigger to the dog that something is wrong or about to be wrong upping their anxiety, alertness and reactivity.
Instead, take a deep breath then let it out slowly. Relax your shoulders and smile. Speak to your dog calmly and kindly. Direct them to the behavior you want instead of waiting to see what happens. Make good stuff happen then reward your dog. And if making anything good happen is not possible, get professional dog training coaching until it is possible.
Your heart is totally in the right place but your words will become, if they have not already, a direct transfer of anxiety from you to your dog. Not your dog training plan and not what’s going to help.
Now you know.