Understanding Your Dog's Emotions
By Jamie Sharma
Understanding how your dog is dealing with different scenarios or a variety of environments is much more elaborate than the average loose tail wag and hanging tongue. Sometimes that lack in knowledge leads to less than desirable outcomes. Everyday there are close to 1,000 people in the U.S. needing emergency care due to a dog bite. (Statistic from www.dogsbite.org). Every. Single. One. Could be prevented. The only guaranteed prevention is education.
Most people understand body language to a degree. The common floppy tongue, loose body with a wide tail wag and relaxed eyes and ears tell you a dog is comfortable. What if I told you a dog can communicates discomfort with a lick/tongue flick, yawning, an exposed belly, wide eyes or a "smile" with squinted eyes? Things get a little more complex than you think.
This doesn't mean you need to run out and enroll in animal behavior courses, although that would be helpful, you need to start with the basics of body language. This is where positive reinforcement training classes come into play. Outside of learning basic obedience, training classes with a certified professional trainer can help you understand your dog's emotional and physical response to different situations, environments and people. Once you understand these emotions and behaviors you are able to address, solve and prevent the negative behaviors and in addition help your dog have a calmer and happier experience. One of the biggest and most important decisions you will need to make is finding a dog trainer and program that not only addresses issues but a trainer you are comfortable with and who teaches you canine behavior, not just basic obedience. A trainer who understands and teaches positive, force-free methods. It is equally important you find a trainer who understands you, your goals and helps you understand the meaning behind your dog's behaviors, good and bad.
A dog's reaction to his/her environment is going to depend on the collective experiences he/she has had leading up to the reaction. This means, if a dog is never exposed to a trash can on the sidewalk or has a bad experience with one, it will likely display fearful behaviors, such as barking, growling, lunging on the leash or attempting to escape, making it difficult to walk near or be around one. The dog will likely not be able to pay attention to the handler or perform even the simplest tasks. This scenario will likely be leaving you AND your dog frustrated. Using positive methods to address this issue will help improve yours and your dog's experience.
The First Step
First thing is first, in order to fix a problem you will need to understand why it is happening. In this case, the trash can is the problem and it is happening due to a lack of exposure or bad history. Sometimes using desensitization can help the dog overcome the fear but this isn't the fix for every dog. You have to understand your dog's emotion from your dog's perception not your own or how YOU think YOU would feel. The first step to take is observing your dog's physical demeanor that leads him/her through all of the behaviors he/she exhibits when encountering the trash can. An example is: the dog's ears, face and body are stiff and alert. The tail is straight up and the dog is leaning forward to observe the trash can instead of taking a step towards it. OR the dog is trying to back away and keep itself as far away as physically possible. It may also be trying to thrash around in hopes of breaking free from the collar/leash/harness to flee. These are observations that need to be carefully observed and completely understood before addressing a solution. In addition to these observations, it is important to also observe the behaviors and body language your dog exhibits BEFORE and AFTER. If you are able to recognize and understand the first signs of distress, you will be able to help your dog improve his/her experience around the trash can thus being able to calmly walk by or near a trash can.
Ready, Set, Go!
If you are ready to not just train your dog but also understand the language he/she is fluent in thus creating a strong positive bond, its time to sign up! What are you waiting for? Training should be fun, encouraging and successful. Send me a message or visit my Facebook page, "The Human Canine Connection by Jamie the Dog Trainer", contact me and let's chat!