The Power of Voice: Using Your Voice to Help Your Anxious Dog
Dogs are incredibly sensitive to their owners' moods and energy levels. When a dog is anxious or over-reactive, it is important to use a calm and confident tone of voice to help let your dog know you've got them, there's nothing to worry about, and you will in fact lead them to calm and confidence. Tone sends a message of safety and security to your dog and can help to decrease their anxiety and reactivity. Keep in mind your dog can be a mirror of your own emotions even if you are trying to cover them up. This is a practice in true calm and confidence.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. ~Viktor Frankl
Here are some tips for using a calm and confident tone of voice when working with an anxious dog:
1. Speak softly, yet with confidence and avoid shouting or raising your voice.
2. It’s ok to use a soothing and reassuring tone, that is gentle and calm voice, but at the same time make your voice firm and assertive so that there is no question that you are in charge of the situation.
3. Avoid telling your dog “its ok”, “it’s ok” over and over in a moment of anxiety, freaking out or reactivity.
You are sending a mixed message, one where the dog is in essence being encouraged to continue the anxious and/or reactive behavior. Dogs learn and think in pictures and you are literally telling your dog “it’s ok” to be anxious or react in that moment, rather than showing them something that can be very simple to do in place of dwelling on the anxiety. You and your dog must practice DOING something different to FEEL different.
4. Maintain gentle, natural eye contact with your dog while speaking to them, but avoid staring at them intently, which can be intimidating.
5. Use marker words with a lilt of happiness in your voice, such as "good dog" or "yes" and my personal favorite “thank you” in the moment your dog does something right.
6. Avoid raising your voice to get your dog’s attention.
Believe me when I tell you that raising your voice does not make a dog (or a person) understand a concept they are confused about. Example: we tend to raise the volume of our voice when we are trying to communicate with someone who speaks a foreign language as though the volume is going to bring understanding.
7. Raising your voice typically just brings more frustration, anxiety, or reactivity in a dog.
8. Practice using the same voice of calm and confidence when your dog shows signs of anxiety or reactivity as you do when your dog is in a relaxed state of mind.
You want to bring your dog back to a state of mind where calm and confidence are the normal stasis. If you practice reactive, anxious response, your dog will too.
9. If you react in a loud voice, your dog will react. If you speak with an upset, worried concerned tone, your dog will act accordingly.
10. If your dog begins to get anxious or over-reactive, take a deep breath, check in with yourself and what old patterns are ALARMING you.
Choose to consciously use your calm and confident tone to direct your dog into what you’d like them to focus on while showing them what to do.
11. Talk less. Show more. Demonstration over explanation and remain calm and confident both in your voice and in showing your dog what to do.
Remember, consistency is key when it comes to using a calm and confident tone of voice. Over time, your dog will associate this type of tone with safety and security, and it will become a powerful tool for helping them to overcome their anxiety and reactivity.
12. The Big Bonus of practicing a calm confident voice with your dog in any situation...
When you start applying this to ALL of your relationships, you'll find a calm and confidence in yourself. You'll find people start listening to you. You'll find you don't have to get upset or shout or nag or complain to be heard. You'll find yourself actually living a life well played.