As someone who studies the behavior of dogs and people, I am a very keen observer when it comes to humans with dogs. I see things sometimes that are down right disturbing that the average person wouldn’t give notice to. Just like if you are a house painter you can see discrepancies all over the place.
What doe it mean to “advocate for your dog”?
I always tell people when we are “talking dog” to be the parent, and always, always advocate for your dog. So what does that mean? Let’s dig in.
Dogs are emotional intelligent animals. They have many, many feelings and emotions that we have. This has been studied and proven. So, of course, they just “don’t like” certain situations, people, dogs, food and more. They have made associations with many things and if one time a big black dog scared your dog, then they might now bark at all big black dogs to keep them away. So while you could work on this issue with positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning training, you can also just avoid big, black dogs, right? And it’s not that big of deal, is it? But doing nothing in the presence of big black dogs will make the fear in your dog possibly worse and also your dog might develop a mistrust for you in those situations.
Harnesses – the oh so important piece of equipment
One topic that I seem to cover daily in the RV world is harnesses. Why they are so important. Well here’s one reason that plays into the topic of advocating for your dog. If you have a small dog, you should always be prepared to be able to lift them in the air if a dangerous situation arises. If you are on a collar, you can hurt the dog doing so. If you have a harness on your dog, you can basically fling your dog into the air safely away from harm. I’ve done it with my previous Jack Russell Terrier and saved her life from a dog that intended to tear her apart.
Why are humans embarrassed to say “no my dog doesn’t like X”, and just leave it at that? I saw a situation recently where a dog who was clearly very uncomfortable with other humans was pushed into almost biting the other human because the owner did nothing. Now I’m very sure that his owner knew that her dog did not like strangers approaching her. But for whatever reason, the owner just stood there while the dog backed up and lunged with air snaps as a man tried to pet the dog 4 times. Then the man finally stepped back and the dog ran around to his back side and nipped at his calves. The dog was so stressed at this point. The man tried once again to pet the dog, at that point, I had been walking with my dogs toward this situation, I yelled “hey, hey” and the man stopped and walked away. My heart was racing, I was worried that I was going to witness a bite to the face of the man. In this situation, the appropriate behavior for the owner of the dog would have been to say “no my dog does not enjoy being petted by new people”. And if the other person persists with “all dogs love me”, say “NO thank you” firmly or just walk away. Don’t give in to the social pressure, you know in your heart what is right for your dog.
Should my dog like everyone and everything?
Why is it that some people believe that their dog should like every dog and human and every situation? You don’t like everyone, or talk to every person you pass each day while, neither should your dog have to endure meeting total strangers and new dogs all the time.
Please don’t pet my dog!
I witnessed a lady at dog park recently where the dog was so miserable and trying her best to get away from the other dogs. The dog owner was more interested in talking with the other human beings. Her dog would go up to her person and “say please, can we leave”. I said something like “hey your dog is trying to get away from all the other dogs, really uncomfortable”. The owner said, “she’s fine”. So what might happen in this situation is that the dog will become dog aggressive and up the ante and start growling, barking and eventually fighting other dogs off. The dog is giving very clear signals, but no one is paying attention. So this is a good example of no one is “advocating for this dog”.
When you are out and about on a leash walk, not meeting dogs is the best course of action for some. Many dogs feel compromised by the leash and sometimes it’s just best to not meet other dogs and it’s OK to do this. Just say something like “sorry, my dog is not up for meeting new dogs today”.
An example of advocating for your dog:
Let’s say you have an older dog. In this scenario, you probably know the dog really well, so you know that they don’t see as well, or maybe they can’t hear very well, or maybe the dog dislikes puppies. So helping this senior dog so that they can navigate the walk, letting them know when there is another dog approaching and steering them in a different direction when a puppy is approaching would be the charitable thing to do right? What’s not appropriate is letting the puppy maul the older dog. That’s just not humane and the older dog might snap at the puppy, creating a negative association for the pup.
Putting a dog in a situation where the dog feels they have to defend themselves creates a loss of trust with you and also the other person or dog. Many dogs get pushed into the situation of saying “I’ve been telling you that I don’t like “X”, but no one listens to me, so now I will have to really show them I’m serious.
Dog body language, important to know.
Dogs use their body language to communicate and learning basic body language is key to understanding your dog. Check out this chart created by Lili Chin of www.doggiedrawings.net
This website and App Dog Decoder is a great way to learn some body language of your dog and also others that approach you.
You know your dog’s quirks and fears, so help them navigate the world so that they can feel safe and protected by you but also make good decisions and positive associations.