These days we live, sleep, and eat with our dogs, in the same house. We share the same air space, even with Mr. Farty Pants. Sometimes exercise together, and even socialize together. You would think that with this type of intimate living arrangement we would know more about our furry loved ones, but it isn’t always the case.
I truly believe our dogs know far more about us than we do them. They are masters of observation and routine. Because they don’t speak a human language they need to watch us carefully. Learn our patterns, habits, tone of voice, mannerisms, and body language. They learn what picking up our car keys means and respond accordingly. They know what we are going to do by the the clothes and shoes we put on. Some dogs even know what happens during certain times of the day. Ever watch a dog wait for their child to come home from school? They can sense our emotional state, and they learn to decipher our very confusing way of interacting with them. After all we aren’t the most consistent of living beings when it comes to communication. We don’t always mean what we say or say what we mean, that takes intention and practice. Sometimes I think our dogs just have to feel a bit upside down with us, thank god they are forgiving!
Taking the time to learn more about your dogs body language is the first step. Not information you gather at the dog park from an arm chair behaviorist, but from an accredited book or video.
Why are they slowing down when another dog is approaching? What does it mean when they are trying to avoid men when out walking? Is barking OK?
I think it’s easy to fall into the cookie cutter approach when handling a dog, and not really pay attention to the dogs style of communication.
Great observation skills and knowing your dog is way more important than a SIT.
It would suffice to say that more than a few years ago, I was working with a team that was concerned and scared that their dog was aggressive.
They made an appointment, filled out our history form, and came to meet with me. While their dog was in the car I read through their paper work, their information was scary to say the least. This dog on paper was a nightmare, and the owners were truly unraveled and had no idea what to do. They had been to another trainer before coming to me and were taught that they had to roll the dog over, growl in it’s face, scruff his face, and basically give him no freedoms, all of the basic crap that is nothing more than abuse. They were told their dog was dominant aggressive, pushy, overly confident, etc. But none of this was working, it was getting worse, in fact the damage this dog inflicted only happened after the heavy handed training started.
When we were all ready they brought their dog into our area. From the moment this dog exited the car there was fear language from nose to tale. I didn’t see a confident dog, or a dog that was trying to be pushy. I saw a dog that had been knocked off center some how and was terribly confused.
Stress was emanating from this dog, it was palpable. Eyes, ears, back, skin flicks, tail, gating, or the lack there of, all told a story. This dog was so uncertain, so confused, and fearful that I am sure up was the same as down.
We did a little work that day, but not much. This dog didn’t trust anyone. I gave the handlers a specific list for the week, what they needed to do, and how they needed to manage their environment.
This pattern went on for a few weeks before they felt he could come into our area again. When he did I saw a dog that had a bit more hold on itself. Still uncertain, the degree was a bit less. We were able to work together, he was able to look at me, and I could touch him briefly.
We made little by little progress over the next few months. What blossomed was this lovely tender dog that seemed to be grateful to have a few people understand, to hear between the lines so to speak. This dog had not an ounce of malice intent but had been put into a position to defend itself because no person was watching or really listening.
A lovely worker, a lovely companion, and a tender lovely soul. Once the handling and environment had been changed great work happened, for everyone. This dog is over twelve years now, I see him every now and again, and he still makes me smile. He taught me a great deal about listening. Yet another teacher in my life.