By Lisa Spector
If dogs could talk, they would tell you these secrets in human language. But they have other ways of communicating these messages, if we are really listening and observing them.
1. I’d rather work for a living than lie around all day with nothing to do. Give me a purpose, and I’ll be happy.
People enjoy doing work they love and getting well paid for it. Why wouldn’t dogs? People also love doing work that encourages them to learn. Dogs are no different. Better yet, turn work into play, and tails will be wagging!
2. I don’t like to be hugged. Why are you always putting your arms around me?
In human behavior, a hug is a sign of affection. I know it can be tempting to say, “I love you” to your dog with a hug. But, that’s not what it means to him. In dogs it represents social status and they can easily feel like they are being restrained. It’s an invasion of their space. Some dogs can tolerate hugs, but many can’t.
3. I don’t much care to be pet on my head either. Please don’t let strangers approach and pet my head.
Again, some dogs can tolerate this, but many can’t. A hand reaching over a dog’s head can feel very threatening from a stranger. Instead, reach under a dog to rub his chest. If it’s a dog you’ve never met, always ask for permission first and let him come to you to sniff you first.
4. Humans have created a crazy sound environment that I often find stressful. Please know that I hear sounds more than twice as high as you. I’m always trying to orient every sound to know if it’s safe or not.
Humans hear sounds between 20-20,000 Hz. Dogs hear at least twice as high, sometimes all the way up to 55,000 Hz. While I think it’s great that more events and public places are dog friendly, so often those environments are created for humans. A fundraising party for dogs and their people that benefits your local shelter, doesn’t benefit your dog when a loud band is playing. Please be careful what sounds you subject your dog to, and provide simple sounds at home that calm the canine nervous system.
5. Don’t correct me for growling. It could be my way of telling you that I feel threatened.
Dogs communicate with their growls. If it’s a play growl, think of it as your dog laughing. But, if it’s a growl that is communicating stress — showing teeth, fur raised, body tense — then it’s his way of saying, “I’m not comfortable right now. I’m feeling scared and threatened.” While you don’t want to ignore their growl, correcting it or scolding him for growling will only increase his fear. It’s a way of telling him not to express his fear and there is something to be afraid of. Next time, he may skip the growl and just bite.
6. It’s very confusing to me when you ask me to do something that I’m rewarded for one time and scolded for the same behavior another time.
You come home from work and your dog is so excited to see you. He jumps up on you and gets praise and attention. The next day, your neighbor knocks on the door, and your dog gets so excited and jumps on them and you yell at him. This can be very confusing to a dog.
7. I’m older now, and my nervous system is more sensitive than when I was in my younger years.
Like people, dog’s nervous systems are more sensitive as they mature. The same things that used to be interesting to them may now be annoying and stressful. Maybe they could handle loud, crowded environments as a youngster but in their senior years, they might prefer to stay home and watch the grass grow.