Columbia Star

What dogs wish their humans understood



When a dog’s behavior changes suddenly, it could be an indication that he is sick or in pain. This can happen when a dog gets older. This is Jane Walker’s older dog.

When a dog’s behavior changes suddenly, it could be an indication that he is sick or in pain. This can happen when a dog gets older. This is Jane Walker’s older dog.

Dogs are family, but they are also an entirely different species. My mentor, Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, used to describe the human-dog relationship as dogs being “furry foreign exchange students” in our homes. Their DNA has programmed them differently than our DNA. Despite the fact they live with us, in many cases from puppyhood, there is often a misunderstanding of their needs and what they are trying to communicate. Below are just a few things our dogs wish we would understand.

Learn my language. Humans communicate with words; dogs communicate with their bodies. While dogs can certainly learn our words, we can better understand our dogs if we learn their language. For example, polite humans approach a person they are meeting frontally, making eye contact. In dog language, this is impolite. It may be considered threatening to some dogs and scary to others. If we can learn the nuances of canine body language, we can improve our training and help our dogs in many other ways. The website www.eileenanddogs.com is an excellent resource with videos to understand canine body language. Zoom Room Dog Training has a video on YouTube that helps children understand canine body language.

Even dogs need rest and alone time. Amy Kuenzie’s Lucy.

Even dogs need rest and alone time. Amy Kuenzie’s Lucy.

I am par t of your family; don’t isolate me. Dog breeds developed through the millenia because of their relationship, affinity, and usefulness to humans. Most do not thrive by being kept in a backyard with little human contact. Isolation and boredom are sometimes exhibited by digging, chewing, barking, or other forms of destruction. If you are concerned your dog cannot live inside, contact a reward-based trainer to help you teach your dog indoor manners.

Help me learn; don’t punish me for my mistakes. When dogs don’t do what we want them to, in most cases it is because we haven’t trained them, there are too many distractions for their level of training, or we have asked more of them than they are ready for. Train your dog in incremental, foundation steps and make sure he is reliable with each step before you ask more of him. If your dog has only learned stays in your house or coming when called in your backyard, don’t expect the behavior to be reliable in a park with distractions. Would you ask your nine-year-old to successfully complete an algebra formula when he has only begun working on fractions? Would you punish him if he couldn’t?

Sometimes it’s obvious what our dogs are trying to tell us. This is Debbie Richerson’s Poppy.

Sometimes it’s obvious what our dogs are trying to tell us. This is Debbie Richerson’s Poppy.

If I suddenly act differently or grumpy, I may be sick. Sudden changes in your dog’s behavior should trigger a visit to the veterinarian. A housetrained dog that begins having accidents in the house may be an indicator of a urinary tract infection. Older dogs are sometimes in pain from arthritis. Diseases can exhibit themselves in behavior changes in dogs. Some medications can cause behavior changes.

If I am scared, help me feel safe. Treat your dog the way you would want to be treated. If your dog is scared, it is okay to comfort him. Allow him to move away from what is scaring him; do not force him to “face his fears.” This can make him even more afraid or worse, not trust you. Instead, allow the dog the distance he needs to be able to cope with the thing that scares him. Desensitize him to the thing or place from a distance in which he feels safe and pair it with super good treats. Provide a quiet safe space to allow your new fearful rescue dog to acclimate to his new surroundings at his pace.

If a dog doesn’t do what you ask, make sure you have taught them well. Punishing a dog for a mistake usually means we made a mistake with our training or expectations.

If a dog doesn’t do what you ask, make sure you have taught them well. Punishing a dog for a mistake usually means we made a mistake with our training or expectations.

Understand my breed and how my DNA guides me. Even mixed breed dogs have genetic predispositions that tell them how to act. Human desire for specific characteristics is why we have the dog breeds we have today. When you pick a dog, make sure its breed is suitable to your lifestyle. A hound will keep its nose to the ground (or a sighthound will constantly scan the horizon and not be inclined to watch you). Yorkies, Shelties, and miniature Schnauzers tend to bark a lot. Herding dogs are active and need a “ job” more than some other breeds. Retrievers were bred to put things in their mouths and hunt for miles. As puppies and adolescents they tend to mouth their owners more than other breeds and can be very high energy. Dogs bred to guard like Great Pyrenees will bark when they see something near their territory.

It’s important that we take the time to learn what our dogs are telling us with their bodies. Here, with her ears back, closed mouth and worr ied expression, Rosie is trying to tell Teoti Anderson she does not enjoy having her picture taken. Or, as Teoti suggested Rosie might be saying, “Every time you take my picture a piece of my soul disappears.”

It’s important that we take the time to learn what our dogs are telling us with their bodies. Here, with her ears back, closed mouth and worried expression, Rosie is trying to tell Teoti Anderson she does not enjoy having her picture taken. Or, as Teoti suggested Rosie might be saying, “Every time you take my picture a piece of my soul disappears.”

I may not always be in the mood to be petted or cuddled. Just like people, sometimes a dog just wants to be left alone to sleep or rest. Or perhaps he just doesn’t feel good that day. Learning to read canine body language to understand when he wants to be left alone is especially important when there are children in the home. The only ways dogs have to tell us they want to be left alone is to move away, turn their heads, or not respond to the interaction. If this communication doesn’t work, dogs may growl or, if pushed further, may bite.

And there is one more important message from our dogs…don’t stop throwing the ball!

Tiffany Green’s TaTa is not being mean by growling to keep away. When subtle body language does not work to communicate, dogs have to escalate their language to growling or even biting.

Tiffany Green’s TaTa is not being mean by growling to keep away. When subtle body language does not work to communicate, dogs have to escalate their language to growling or even biting.

Dogs don’t always want to be pet ted. Understanding their language will help us respect their feelings and prevent bites. Kathy Broderick’s dog is communicating he is not in the mood for physical affection.

Dogs don’t always want to be petted. Understanding their language will help us respect their feelings and prevent bites. Kathy Broderick’s dog is communicating he is not in the mood for physical affection.

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