Listening to your dog means watching their language.
We have been thinking about the all-important topic of canine body language and how much we miss. As verbally-centric creatures, many people have said to me, "Oh, if only my dog could talk!" That got us thinking maybe we need to take a moment to sniff around this hydrant.
They may not use words, but our dogs try and talk to us everyday, in every situation and because we can't HEAR it, we don't take note. But what exactly prevents us from noticing and honoring our dogs needs?
There are times when more importance is placed on the opinions and feelings of other people than our dogs. We want our dogs to be loved not only by us but the people around us. Same goes for our kids, our significant others, our family, and our friends. Humans have a tendency to see the things around them as a reflection of themselves. Owning a dog who growls at the 4 year old who grabs him by the neck or hides from the approaching big guy in glasses seems to be embarrassing. This emotion triggers people to make excuses or even punishing their dog for the behavior. These dogs are just that - dogs. And they come with stuff, too - some genetic, some from past hurts, some from pressures that are being anticipated. As we are throwing our dogs to the wolves, we miss all they are trying to tell us through their body language and vocalizations. Our inability to recognize and take action when the appropriate warning signs occur leaves our best friend without help.
A dog who is repeatedly placed in stressful social interactions resulting in mild warning signs will eventually go up the chain of warnings until they find something that eliminates the threat. If your dog is now pulling his ears back and licking his lips at the sight of an over-exuberant stranger and that doesn't slow the train, he will possibly try a vocalization, or a lip curl, or maybe even a snarl. If that doesn't work or he gets punished, he may then react by biting. And that bite will not "be out of nowhere." It will be because someone failed to recognize his anxiety.
Our Facebook post this morning about how to greet a dog is a great example of how much information dogs give in an effort to get some help and how much we need to learn. It is very important to realize that just because we think a situation is ok and non threatening, does not mean they are perceiving the same. As protectors and caregivers, it is our job to recognize the signs of fear, stress, and discomfort in our dogs and keep them