Does your dog’s behaviour really mean what others think it does? We’re looking at how you can become your dog’s advocate to clear up misunderstandings and avoid problems.
How does your dog behave when approached by strangers or by other dogs? It’s all too easy to blame your pet if he or she growls and appears to be aggressive, but could it really be that your dog is overwhelmed or uncomfortable and is asking you for help?
By becoming your dog’s advocate, you could prevent unwanted behaviour. You will deepen the bond between you as your dog sees you as his/her best friend and protector.
Why do dogs bite?
Your dog doesn’t’ have the words to say “I’m scared, get me out of here” or “back off buster I don’t want you to touch me”. Instead they use body language. If the body language is misunderstood, then there is only one way your dog can communicate – by growling, barking and yes – if they get desperate – biting. If the situation arises again, it’s not unusual for a dog to skip the subtle signs (cos they were a waste of time anyway) and go straight to the direct approach – the bite.
When I worked as a veterinary nurse I soon learned how to recognise and respect the signs of stress, which is why when I became a dog trainer and behaviourist, I also became an advocate for animals.
Understanding canine communication
When to be your dog’s advocate
A good friend will encourage, support, protect and never ever force you to do something against your better judgement. If a dog is Man’s best friend – then shouldn’t you be your dog’s best friend too. That means not forcing them into situations where they feel uncomfortable. Standing up for them if they feel as though they are being bullied and removing them from a situation if they’re not coping.
Let’s look at some situations where you might need to act as your dog’s advocate in order to avoid conflict.
Meeting people at home
So many times, owners bring their dogs to me for help because they are “rude” to visitors. Growling, barking and snapping at strangers who come into the home.
When we look deep into the dog’s history, it’s often the case that at some point, the dog has had a bad experience. What may seem acceptable behaviour from a human point of view, could have been frightening for the dog.
Would you feel comfortable if a stranger come into your home and grabbed you? I certainly wouldn’t! Now, how do you think a shy dog might feel if a human they didn’t know insisted on hugging them, rubbing their fur and picking up them up? The person sees it as affection. The dog sees it more as an assault.
So how about being your dog’s advocate and training your visitors as well as your dog? No matter how cute the dog is, ask visitors to avoid engaging with your pet until your dog lets you know he or she is ready to join the conversation.
Meeting people when out and about
Again, some people need educating about the best way to approach dogs. If your pooch is mooching about, smelling smells and minding their own business, they could be startled by sudden and unwanted attention.
If you spot a dog enthusiast on the horizon, never feel guilty about moving away from them. After all, in puppy and dog training classes we teach dogs not to approach every dog and person they see. Reinforce their training and be your dog’s advocate at the same time.
I can’t stress enough the importance of your pup meeting other dogs. It’s how they learn how to communicate with their own kind. Bear in mind though, that every puppy is an individual. To varying degrees some are rambunctious characters who want to play fast and furious games with everyone. Some are shy but curious, others are easily overwhelmed.
If you decide to go to a puppy party, make sure that your pup plays nicely. If yours is the outgoing one, then you may need to intervene and distract him or her from bullying someone who doesn’t want to play. If you have a shy one, don’t force them to interact, it’s ok to watch from the side-lines.
Puppyhood experiences definitely help to shape behaviour as a dog matures.
Meeting dogs when out and about
Gosh, this is the difficult one. In an ideal world, all dogs would get along brilliantly and all owners would understand how to facilitate that. But, this world is far from ideal and there will always be that shy dog/bold dog scenario. One thing that really grinds my gears is dog owners who can’t understand that their dog’s behaviour isn’t always appropriate. “he’s only being friendly” isn’t helpful when your dog is clearly not happy to meet.
Quince and I have made a short video on dog walking etiquette with some tips on being your dog’s advocate.
Doggy day care
Doggy day care is a godsend for busy owners. It means that you furry pal needn’t be home alone all day. However, as convenient as it might be for owners, for some dogs, Doggy day care needs introducing very carefully.
How can you be your dog’s advocate in this situation? It all depends on the dog. In the short term, I would suggest finding an alternative. Perhaps taking your dog to work with you, or finding a carer who can visit your dog at home. In the long term, working with a behaviourist will help. A behaviourist will help you figure out what is stressing your pup about day care and then work with you to find a practical solution.
At the vets or the groomer
At some point in his or her life your dog will need to visit the vet and possibly the grooming parlour.
Dog training and socialising is all about preparing your pup in advance so that when the time comes for a visit, he or she will know exactly how to behave.
Be your dog’s advocate by spending a little time each day training them to allow people to touch ears, look at teeth, press tummies etc. I teach all of my dogs how to present a paw (for nail trimming), stand nicely whilst being handled and a few other little tricks to make life easier for the professionals and less stressful for the dog.
Find out more in my Dogversity module for Vets or Groomers visits.
Dogversity is distance learning for dogs and their owners. You will be able to download a comprehensive training video which explains how a dog learns and gives examples of training techniques.
Unlike a “free” internet video you will have full support from the team here at Best Behaviour Dog Training and access to lots of free resources.
Find out more about Dogverstity here https://www.bestbehaviourdogtraining.co.uk/dogversity/vet-groomers-handling/
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