Have you ever taken time to look at life from your dog’s perspective? Have you ever thought about how dogs perceive human behaviors? In addition to being a pet dog trainer, and an instructor at Kenyon Canine Institute, I am also a mother. One of my sons’ favorite movie right now is Tinker Bell. There is a clip from this movie that makes me think about the dog’s point of view when we, as humans, are innocently being kind or helpful. You must see this one minute clip.
What we see as a kind gesture, our dogs may see as a threat or sometimes as scary behaviors. I created a list of things to keep in mind to help keep your own dog comfortable.
Bending over or towards your dog. Whether it is to groom, feed, deliver a treat, or pet your dog, bending towards him is seen as a threat. If you observe human behavior, even though our intentions are good, this is our tendency.
When meeting a new dog, it is better to turn to the side, not maintaining direct eye contact. When I meet a new client’s dog, a lot of times I don’t look at the dog with my direct vision until I have been there for 15 minutes discussing training needs with the client. At that point the dog has been able to sniff me enough so we are a little more acquainted.
Do not make direct eye contact. If you look a dog straight in the eye he will see this as a threat. In a human’s world we are being polite but this is not the case from a dog’s perspective.
Walk in “S” form. If you walk towards a dog in a direct straight line, he will see that as a threat. We love moving straight forward; we move laterally. This is evident by the way we build our sidewalks, our roads, and our grocery aisles. Children and dogs are not lateral movers. Children are all over the place, and if you have ever taken children to the grocery store or your dog on a walk, you have likely noticed this as well. So when moving towards a dog, you can make “S” type movements just like you would when you are skiing.
If you need to get close to a dog, allow the dog to come to you. Squat down, place the side of your body towards him, and let him sniff you. You can always hold out your hand to the side and keep it steady. Allow time for him to sniff you and do not make any quick movements.
When Meeting a Dog
- Turn to the side; do not face a dog directly
- Make “S” movements
- Do not make direct eye contact
- Squat to the side
- Let the dog come to you
- Allow the dog to sniff you
Hugging a dog. I have never seen another dog walk up and place his paws around another dog as a sign of affection. This is a human thing. We love to hug our dogs. Trust me; I do too. This is such a reinforcing behavior for us; NOT necessarily for our dogs.
How can you tell if your dog is uncomfortable?
He communicates to you by showing what are called displacement behaviors, or otherwise known as calming signals. These include: lip licking, grooming, shaking, scratching, yawning, turning his head to the side, and squinting his eyes. These signals can be used by humans to allow us to key in on when our dogs are uncomfortable. When you see these signs, you can adjust the environment accordingly for your dog. These signals are also used by dogs in social settings allowing other dogs to resolve or prevent any social conflict.
(Human hugging; dog lip licking)
(Camera in dog’s face; turns head to side, squints eyes, yawns)
The above behaviors are normal behaviors for a dog to do in his everyday life, so I always tell students to look at the context in which the behaviors occur. If your dog yawned when someone hugged him or leaned towards him, he is not in a relaxed tired state. He is uncomfortable. If he shakes after a bath that obviously served to get him dry.
Stress is subjective to each dog. What one dog might find as very stressful, another dog might find enjoyable. I suppose that would ring true in the human world as well. My husband finds jumping out of an airplane fun, whereas I am quite sure I would need paramedics waiting for me when I landed.
When I was training a group class in Orlando, I had a little puppy in my class that kept scratching. The owner said to me, Michelle I have tried new shampoo and she doesn’t have fleas I don’t know why she keeps scratching. I kept observing their training sessions and noticed that it was only after the owner said a cue that the dog was scratching. The owner was saying the cues in a firm manner, so I said, why don’t you try cuing in a softer tone of voice. She did, and the dog performed the behavior without scratching.
Dogs are constantly communicating to us; it is just a matter of becoming aware of how they say things; learning their language.
Notice in the above picture that not one of the dogs is looking at another as they are maintaining peace without direct eye contact.
Author: Michelle Huntting
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