How many of us have thought it would be fun to learn a new language but didn’t know where to start?
Well, I can teach you the basics of a new language that will be really fun and rewarding and easy to learn. Speak Dog! No, not ‘Woof-Woof’, but really be able to not only communicate with your dog but also understand what your dog is trying to tell you!
For all of us who live with dogs the need and desire to really understand what our dog is telling us can be frustrating at times, and what we THINK they are saying to us might be totally different from what they are really saying.
For example, you have company over and your little dog is sitting on your lap and starts to yawn as your guests are looking at him. You might think…”oh, my he this is SO boring for him’ when really yawning is just one way dogs are telling us they are really uncomfortable or stressed in the current situation and they are trying to calm themselves (and others) down. We do the same thing when we are frustrated or stressed we take a big deep breath to relax. Dogs doing it by yawing. And if we see a dog is stressed we can help them out by yawning too. The audible exhale helps to relieve stress and tension that might be in the ‘situation’, and again works to help calm everyone.
Perhaps when you have your dog at the dog park or around other dogs, he is not really playing, but is more interested in sniffing the ground. That very act of sniffing is another way that he is letting others know that he really isn’t comfortable playing right now; he doesn’t want to engage with anyone and is a little unsure of the situation. And if you will watch you will see most dogs will respect that, and leave your dog alone. How many times have you seen something like that and the owner picks up the little dog and walks him over to ‘go play now’ and might drop him in the middle of a group of dogs. There are a couple things that happen, the little dog runs back to ‘mom’ with the other dogs chasing him or he just ‘freezes’ (another sign of extreme discomfort). Whatever happens it certainly isn’t helpful for the dog and may only increase his ‘social awkwardness’ around other dogs.
And then of course there is the ‘growl’! How many times has the unexpected growl come for your little dog when the nieces and nephews, grandkids or the neighbor are over to visit? They lean over him, squealing in delight at the very sight of him and start patting him on the head and making all kinds of noise, trying to pick him up, touch him all over etc. , How RUDE!!! I would growl too if some stranger came up to me and started ‘manhandling’ me! Touching me in my face, staring at me, making weird and unfamiliar gestures and speaking to me in ways I couldn’t understand! Why… I would certainly ask them to back off a bit, and hoped that they did it soon!
Well, same thing goes for your dog. A growl is a warning they are giving saying “please, please stop what you are doing! I am terribly frightened, I’m not sure what you are doing, or who you are and ask you to please stop.’ And again, what happens, the poor, frightened dog gets a resounding ‘NO”, followed by a thwack on the nose. And now if the dog wasn’t afraid of the ‘handling’, or the people, he certainly will be now and NOW even more so. So what happens next time?? Next time there is no warning (because he got yelled at and smacked in the face the last time), now it goes right to the nip/bite. How many times have we heard stories where people say “he just bit me for no reason’? Well, in 95% of those bite cases there was warning! The people just didn’t know how to speak dog or what to watch for, or weren’t watching the interaction. Dogs are VERY good in most cases about telling us when things aren’t working for them.
Once again, watching and knowing the discomfort level of your dog could have given you all kinds of clues. When the kids/adults came in did your dog start licking his lips? Yawning? Looking for a place to go/hide? Were his ears back? Or tail tucked? All of these would have indicated a dog who is not very interested in being with this group. And you know what? That’s o.k. Not every dog likes every person (labs however, could be the exception!), just like we don’t necessarily like everyone we have to spend time with. But we have ways to cope, and so do dogs.
My dog is very uncomfortable around big men with beards; she tucks her tail, lowers her head, and tries to get out of the way. And then the men will say something like “oh what’s the matter with your dog? All dogs LOVE me??? I’ll go pet her, she’ll see.” Whoa Nellie! Hum.. .. No! I have a protocol at my house or when I am out with my dog. I get her favorite treats, I have the man sit on the floor, with treat in hand and have him gently toss a few treats in her direction, and have him turn away so there is no eye contact. Then after a few tosses, he will hold the treats in an open hand. They have to be very still until Tess goes up and takes the treat (which she does very carefully and retreats very quickly) we do this a couple times, then the man moves to the chair, same thing. Offering open-handed treats. Still no petting. The goes on for about 10 minutes , and usually the man can pet her on her chest, for about a second, when Tess then decides, ‘well, I guess he’s not THAT bad’ and then saunters away to her bed. The next time the ‘treat and greet’ goes a little quicker, and eventually, when I say ‘oh goody, so-and-so is here’ she will run to door, tail wagging, waiting for nice man who makes treats fall from the sky.
The other thing that you can do as you walk your dog and someone comes up to you to pet your dog, watch your dog’s reaction to the person. Does he appear to be calm, tail held loose and high, wagging? Does he have a relaxed look to his face? Or is he backing away, and showing the above mentioned signs of ‘discomfort’? Whichever it is, because you understand ‘dog,’ you can make the decision.. ‘No, he’s really uncomfortable around men/women/kids/bikes/strollers but we are working on it. Thank you for understanding.’ Or ‘oh, that would be great! You can give him one of his treats and then pet him on his chest, and if you could not stand/lean over him that would be a big help! Thank you so much for asking’. I always have treats with me so if there is an opportunity I’m ready to help my dog or any dog I am working with have a good experience and to keep everyone as stress-free and safe as possible.
Becoming fluent in “dog” will help keep everyone safe.