Dog Training

Calm a Stressed Dog…You Get What You Pet

November 30, 2023

By Austin Smoot. My wife Ruby and I had an agressive, stressed out dog on our hands and Jason helped us understand why and how to calm our stressed dog Theo. After what he taught us, Theo became a happy, content companion. It truly changed everything! One of the biggest mindset shifts he helped us […]

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How are dogs like trees?
You get what you pet!
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By Austin Smoot.

My wife Ruby and I had an agressive, stressed out dog on our hands and Jason helped us understand why and how to calm our stressed dog Theo. After what he taught us, Theo became a happy, content companion. It truly changed everything! One of the biggest mindset shifts he helped us understand was “You get what you pet.” It’s crazy to think back on how it all came to be.

How Theo Joined Our Family

On July 14, 2016, my wife and I made the decision to adopt a puppy. We had a 10-year-old English Cocker Spaniel named Jack who was starting to slow down a bit and we were worried that he was nearing the end of his happy, healthy life. We contacted a family nearby that had announced a beautiful litter of American Cocker Spaniels and made an appointment “just to look”.

Almost immediately, we picked Theo.

Calm a stressed puppy, new dog

Taking Theo home; August 16, 2016

As fate would have it, Theo was the most energetic of the bunch. We loved him to death, but it was extremely difficult to keep him still. He would run everywhere, jump on everything, chew on anything — but we still loved him.

Austin on his computer with dogs on either side

Jack, me, Theo (left to right); November 23, 2016

Theo’s Stress Brought On Some Major Problems

At around the eight months, however, Theo’s playful running became conscious avoidance when we would call for him, his jumping became aggressive lunging toward other dogs, and his chewing became gnashing and biting. It scared us because we felt like we were doing something wrong. After all, these signs of aggression would only surface in moments where Theo felt stressed.

We didn’t know how to calm a stressed out dog. So almost instinctively, we began comforting him whenever he seemed agitated. If there was a dog barking at him, we would pick Theo up off the ground and hold him. If there was a thunderstorm outside, we would pet him to calm him down. It seemed to help in the moment to calm Theo’s stress. But unfortunately, rather than improving the situation overall, things only seemed to get worse.

Our family no longer visited dog parks because it always seemed as though a fight would break out while Theo played with other dogs. We also began feeding our dogs separately because if Jack got too close to Theo while he was eating, he wouldn’t stop growling or showing his teeth until Jack was out of the room. We couldn’t even let Jack play with a toy in front of Theo because the moment that Theo decided that it was his toy, he would lunge at Jack in an aggressive attack. That’s when we decided that we wanted to meet with someone to curb Theo’s aggression.

Meeting Jason and Being Surprised to Learn How We Were Making Theo MORE Stressed

We met with the Jason, the owner of Cornerstone Dog Training, in May of 2017. By that time, Theo was about ten months old and still growing. We shared our experience and concerns about having to find a new home for Theo if we couldn’t find a way to calm him down.

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One of the first questions that Jason asked us was what we would do whenever Theo seemed stressed or anxious. I responded, “Well, obviously if he’s growling or looking like he’s about to lunge at another dog we pick him up so that he feels safe.” Jason smiled at us and then looked down at Theo before responding with what became the most pivotal lesson we would come away with.

He said, “One of the most important things I can teach you is this: You get what you pet.”

He continued, “When Theo is stressed out or nervous, your decision to pick him up (or even pet him during a stressful moment) is creating a crutch that Theo depends on to calm down. It also teaches him that it’s okay to show aggression towards others. If he feels vulnerable and doesn’t feel like you have control over the situation, he’s choosing to show his dominance through aggression. Remember this: if you pet a nervous dog, you will get a nervous dog. If you pet a whiny dog, you’ll get a whiny dog.”

Jason went on to teach us the importance of appropriately praising good behavior through treats and affection. And just as importantly, marking the bad behavior and allowing Theo to work through stressful moments while discouraging misbehavior or aggression. We call this “balanced training”.

Ruby and Theo out learning how to have a calm, off-leash heel

Ruby (my wife) and Theo working on an off-leash heel command; July 24, 2017

Continuing Cornerstone’s Chaos to Calm Training Program

Since that first visit with Jason we soon decided to join their program and Theo began changing for the better. Day after day, week after week we witnessed Theo becoming a different dog. He was happier, more confident, and more playful! Theo genuinely became the family dog that we had always wanted! This all happened over the course of just 8 weeks working with Cornerstone. We did their Chaos to Calm program years and years ago and are still enjoying the amazing results. This program taught us so much. We are so grateful we made the decision to talk to a trainer about what we were going through.

And I’ll never forget the importance of our very first lesson in how to calm a stressed dog — You get what you pet.

Calm dogs around a baby

Jack, Theo, Beckham (my nephew);

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  1. John Bowker says:

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