Embrace your dog, just not literally

by DogTime expert, Colleen Safford

If there is one thing for certain, we DogTime readers LOVE our dogs. We search for solid information on good nutrition and tackling common behavior issues, and we research places to buy the best gear–from gortex raincoats to orthopedic beds for our furry kids. We’re dog crazy.

DogTime expert, Colleen Safford

Over the decades we have embraced (and I mean this literally) our dogs just as we do our family.

Interestingly enough, with all the love, we still do very little to better understand and get to know our dogs. I know that every loving dog owner reading this just let out a huff: “I know my dog. Who is this lady to say that I don’t know MY dog?” But each and every day as a dog trainer , I hear and see things that remind me, that as a population, we are far from understanding our dogs. Again, there is no doubt that we love them, but we don’t really know them. Our dogs are talking to us all day–and I don’t just mean barking either (though some do too quite skillfully).

There are numerous body postures and cues that our dogs give to let us know how they are feeling. Our dogs are talking all day with each and every interaction.

When your dog yawns, it’s likely that he is telling you he is stressed or confused and not tired. When he shakes off, as if he just got out of water, he is telling you he just needed to calm himself down a bit. When your dog licks his lips (and not right in front of the food dish), he is telling you he is rather uncomfortable. And just because your dog is scratching at his collar , does not mean he has an itch. He’s likely just a little anxious .

These are all things that most owners fail to recognize and often the reason so many people respond to a dog bite with, “It came out of the blue. There were no signs of aggression before!” Dogs actually do tell us and give us ample warning that they are going to bite. We just don’t hear them.

Most dogs and their people just live a life of miscommunication. For some it works. For 4.5 million a year, it results in a bite and potentially a life threatening situation for both the dog (who can land in a shelter) and the victim of the dog bite.

The best example of miscommunication between humans and dogs: the hug. If we really knew and loved our pooches, the first thing we would do is stop hugging them.

GASP!

“Stop hugging my dog? Ok, this Colleen Safford woman is just nuts! She calls herself a dog lover?”

It’s true, my fellow crazy dog people. The hug is for us, not our pups . It’s what I call human grade affection. Please know, I am a recovering offender. I study dogs every day. I still have the urge, and yes, occasionally I slip.

I compare my addiction to giving dogs human grade affection to that of someone who is trying to quit chain smoking after 30 years. It was ingrained in me. I knew no other life or way. My day was not complete until I ran off the school bus or got home from work (pre-dog training days), got a big hug from my dog, and then used him as my footrest or headrest as I watched after school cartoons or relaxed to read a book. My dog contact, well, it completed me.

My dogs, I know they loved me, but they probably spent most days saying, “How will I ever train you? You are so smart, but you never listen to me.”

I still look back and think that I was a good owner. I wish though for my dog’s sake that I would not have given all of those hugs: human grade affection.

Please don’t get me wrong. Our dogs crave and need our attention, contact, and affection. Don’t think of dogs as any different. Just know that all along our dogs would far prefer a scratch on the chest, tushie, or under the chin instead of a tight embrace or pet on the head.

The hug is just one of many miscommunications between human and dog. Just think of how much easier it would be on both of you, if you could just understand a bit better what your dog was saying.

You could remove your dog from situations where he is stressed. You might find out that the root of a behavior issue is stress or anxiety related and work to resolve it. You might make your dog incrementally happier by increasing the number of times you rub his ears and decrease the number of times you scratch his head just by observing the difference in his body during each interaction.

This week, May 16th – 22nd, is National Dog Bite Prevention week. A week to remind us of how many bites can be prevented next year if only we take time to learn a tiny bit more about what dogs are telling us.

This week, us dedicated dog lovers can take charge, spread the word, raise awareness, and educate ourselves and other dog-loving friends about dog body language basics.

Rescuing dogs is important. Training our dogs is important. Understanding our dogs is also key to keeping them safe, happy, and in our homes.

Think of how good our dogs could have it if we only knew a little bit more about what they were trying telling us! Teach yourself and others to SPEAK DOG!

Please visit www.doggonesafe.com to learn more about dog body language basics.

Please visit www.liamjperkfoundation.org to learn more about why it is so important to raise awareness for safe living for children and dogs.

Please visit www.dogsandstorks.com to learn more about acclimating fur baby and new baby.

Tune into The Family Pet on www.petliferadio.com to learn about appropriate pet selection, body language basics and keeping kids and pets safe.

Looking for more ways to better understand and communicate with your dog? Check out all of Colleen’s DogSpeak columns…