Can you speak dog?

Dog doc 18: What is your dog saying to you?

What’s that Lassie?  Little Timmy is stuck down the well and needs me to come and rescue him?  OK, let’s go!

I was on my way to meet a family last week when I remembered this and it made me laugh out loud.  I used to love the Lassie films as a child and I was always so impressed with how communicative she was.  Now that I own collies myself, (albeit Border Collies, not Rough Collies) I know that they are easily able to convey this information.

In fact at our agility class on Saturday, my trainer Carla was explaining a handling manoeuvre and said that if she did it one way her dog Blyss would just look at her and say “I’m going to go this way mum, because I don’t think you know what you are doing”.  Carla said she knew Blyss was thinking this because it was written all over her face.  They won a rosette yesterday, so they must understand each other pretty well 🙂

Anyway, I was on my way to meet a family whose mum wanted to get a dog desperately.  However she said that her 8 year-old daughter was terrified of dogs.  I offered to take Busy over to meet them and discuss what kind of dog they might get.  As part of my preparation, I was considering what is it that makes dogs scary?  I decided that the easiest answer is that we don’t know what they are thinking.  And of course they don’t know what we are thinking.  Or do they?

When you spend all day every day in the company of dogs, you come to realise that they are not that complicated.  They love routine, they like to know the rules and they want to be loved.  That’s not too hard, is it?  They want us to be consistent towards them, hopefully consistently loving.  Dogs really love it if you do the same stuff every day, so they know what to expect.

A Dog Needs

What might a dog be saying to you?  Well, these are the things it needs:

  • Food (always top of the list)
  • Warmth (somewhere nice to sleep)
  • Water
  • Toileting (they much prefer to toilet outside, away from their bed)
  • Exercise (is it time to go out for a walk?)
  • Play (throw the ball throw the ball throw the ball…)
  • Cuddles (well a nice stroke or tummy rub at least)
  • Kind words

Basically then, a dog is saying something about one of these topics.  So if you are out on a walk and a dog comes bounding over, it is probably saying “Play with me?”  Or “Hello pleased to meet you,”  or “Aren’t I gorgeous?”  Chances are they are NOT saying “You look tasty, can I bite you?” or “I hate you!”

Why might a dog bite?

Unless they are trying to catch and kill prey to eat, dogs usually only bite in self-protection.  So if they think you are going to attack them, they will try to get in there first. Sadly, people who are afraid of dogs often try to kick them or hit them to make them go away.  This of course makes the dog retaliate and they then learn that people are not friendly.  Unfortunately, they might then bite the next person they see, which leads to that person becoming frightened of dogs.  Understandably so.

Dogs also might attack if they are confused.  This is why dogs find children so threatening: they are noisy and unpredictable.  They run around very fast, making lots of noise. They try and grab at the dog and put their faces too close.

Listen to what the dog is saying

If you have an encounter with a dog, try to stay calm and quiet.  Make yourself inoffensive.  Don’t go for a full-on stare at the dog, it’s too intimidating.  Ask the dog if they would like to be petted and wait for a reply.  Don’t expect them to be thrilled to see you.  Be gentle.  Offer your hand, palm down, to be sniffed.  If you smell OK, they will be happy to be stroked.  Patience is important, don’t rush.  If you want to stop a dog jumping up at you, turn away from them.  Trust me, it works.

Once you get to know a dog, you will learn to understand them.  Hopefully they won’t need to tell you about someone stuck down a well, but they probably will tell you it’s dinner time.

Ask me for Advice?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?

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