All dog owners are aware that while dogs cannot speak with words, they have a large repertoire of body language, barks and actions that can go a long way towards letting us know what they are thinking and how they are feeling. How well we read those signs depends upon our own experience with dogs, and our own dogs in particular.
You may sometimes be confused by your dog’s actions, responses or the ways in which they act, which can on occasion seem to be inappropriate for the situation or different to the way that we would wish, and wonder what has occurred. The chances are, however, that your dog is equally confused with you. Somewhere between your thoughts and the dog’s understanding, the message has gotten lost, and your dog is left trying to decode how you feel or what you want in the same way that you are trying to do with him, leading to confusion and frustration for both of you!
There are three core areas in which this is particularly likely to happen, and performing an audit of them in relation to your dog can help you to identify if you and your dog are actually speaking the same language or not; or whether you are confusing, frustrating or upsetting your dog inadvertently. Read on to learn about the three ways in which you might be doing your dog a disservice when communicating with him and reading him.
If you are tense or stressed about something that is going on in a certain area of your life, it is only natural that this will affect other aspects of your day to day routine too, and your dog will pick up on this. If you are not getting on well with another member of the household or if you are finding it hard to leave your work problems at work, you will almost certainly be tense, preoccupied and uptight when in the presence of your dog. If you are angry or have just had an argument, the chances are that your emotions will still be running high for a while afterwards, and again, your dog will feel this even if it is totally unrelated to them and they are in fact helping you to feel better.
Your dog cannot know the intricacies of the human lifestyle that have led to the source of the upset; all they know is that for some reason, your mood is off and that it might be something to do with them. This can lead to nervous behaviour in your dog, worried or uptight body language, and sometimes, acting out due to stress that may, to you, be inexplicable.
Consider your own mood and demeanour next time your dog is behaving oddly, and see if you can identify the root cause of the problem from there.
Dogs understand simple words and commands, sometimes a significant number of them. But this does not mean that they can understand English, even if they cannot speak it! What your dog is actually doing when they respond to a command is demonstrating a learned behaviour; when their person makes a certain sound, if they react in a certain way, their person will be pleased. This is as far as their understanding goes, so spouting off long sentences of information to your dog about where and where not to pee or what they are allowed to play with will be totally lost on them.
You need to communicate and “talk” to your dog using a very limited range of direct verbal commands, and use your responses, rewards and body language to transmit the rest of the message. By all means tell your dog your problems and how your day went- dogs make excellent listeners and sympathetic friends- but remember that they won’t understand the detail of what you are saying!
All dog owners know that exercise is vital to keeping their dogs happy and healthy, and that they must be able to go outside and exercise enough for their breed and life stage. But many owners often forget their dog’s need for mental stimulation as well, which again varies from breed to breed. Highly intelligent dogs such as the Poodle and Border Collie need plenty of play and puzzle-solving time with varied activities in order to keep them happy and mentally stimulated, without which they will become bored and stressed.
In working roles and prior to that, when in the wild before dogs became domesticated, just the day to day processes that they undertook such as assisting their handlers or keeping out of danger and finding food were enough to provide mental stimulation. Our spoilt domestic dogs may live in a more settled and safe environment as a result of their relationships with people, but their minds need to keep active!
Does your dog have enough toys, puzzle games, and time spent with you working on their mental agility? It’s not about mathematics or science, but simply about encouraging your dog to problem-solve, think, and work those grey cells! Dogs that are not sufficiently stimulated may become unruly, destructive and difficult to handle, as they find themselves having to make up their own games to keep entertained!