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Pet Lovers

10/26/2020

Understanding Your Dog

Most mornings we enjoy a little cuddle time with our dog before we hop out of bed and get ready…

How well do you know your dog?

Most mornings we enjoy a little cuddle time with our dog before we hop out of bed and get ready for work. This morning, my husband was concerned because our dog was shivering. Jesse was not cold, and it did not appear that anything was hurting. I quickly decided that he had to go potty. I jumped up and dressed so that I could take him outside. As expected, he was fine after his potty walk. Later in the morning, my husband asked how I knew that Jesse’s shivering was a sign that he had to go outside. I answered, “Because I know him”. I have observed Jesse deliberately shaking or shivering in the past when he wants to go potty. We have good communication with one another. I know what it means when he shivers in the mornings, just as I understand many of his other gestures and clues.

Knowing comes from Familiarity

Have you ever finished your spouse’s sentence because you knew what they were going to say before they even opened their mouth? Or you may remember quickly correcting a wrong when your parent gave you “the look”? Or maybe you dropped an issue when you took a clue from your disengaged boss that he/she really didn’t like your idea or was not on the “same page” with you? Through a variety of nonverbal clues, we learn to communicate with those we know well or those we spend time with.

Therein is the key…. Spending time with a person or a pet is the only way to know them well. It’s sad, really, that many people do not know how rich a relationship can be with their pup. It is not that they don’t love their dog, but their relationship is often limited to pats on the heads, and light interaction at mealtime. They think their dog is cute, entertaining, and maybe a good foot warmer on cold winter nights, but they really do not spend enough “quality” time with their dog to get to know them better. It may sound silly to some people, but there is much to be gained when you develop a strong relationship with your dog.

How well can you know your dog?

I often refer to my prior dog as my soul mate. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’m pretty sure she was human in a past life. She reacted and responded to the things I said with amazing comprehension. I spent a lot of time with Haley. She was an adult when she was adopted and from that very first day, her eye contact with me was uncanny. Her ability to read me was remarkable.

I have to add though, that I do not believe that all dogs choose to relate with humans with this degree of coherence. While my current dog and I have a great understanding, he is not nearly as perceptive as my former dog. I’m not complaining… he has his own set of endearing qualities. As long as Jesse is loved, well taken care of, and able to communicate what he needs to me, then he is content. While I work to communicate better with Jesse, he will only respond to a certain degree, then he becomes disinterested and begins trying to engage me in a game of some sort.

Understanding Your Dog’s Non-Verbal Communication

It’s no secret that dogs are masters of nonverbal communication. Body language is their main form of transmitting information. The position of their ears, tails, mouths, and posture speaks volumes. But in my opinion, what is even more fascinating is a dog’s desire to make eye contact and deliberately “produce” facial expressions.

Eye Contact with Your Dog

Making eye contact with your dog is vital in building trust and deepening your relationship. I am not talking about staring. Staring, in a dog’s world, isn’t necessarily a friendly gesture. I am talking about making eye contact as you talk to and pet your dog. Your dog will attempt to make eye contact with you too. If your dog comes to you and loosely and happily gives you puppy eyes, he may desire some quality time with you. Their eyes can express a multitude of emotions.

Did you know that eye contact can also trigger the release of hormones responsible for love and attachment in humans as well as dogs. Gazing into the eyes releases a hormone known as Oxytocin. We discussed the 2015 Oxytocin studies this past March in a blog titled “Do Dogs Feel Love?”. Oxytocin creates that connection, that precious bond, and solidifies the unique relationship with your dog, just as it does with babies and their Mothers.

If you truly know your dog, you then know that they speak frequently with their eyes. Jesse does this thing every night as we are watching TV or reading. He sits straight up from where he has been lounging, faces either myself or my husband directly, and stares in our eyes. It means, “It’s late and we should be in bed.” That is his way of letting us know that he’s ready for his final potty walk and treat, and then it’s “lights out”. And if we don’t comply, he continues to stare until we start to feel guilty.

Your Dog’s Facial Expressions

Your dog attempts to speak to you and relate to you with an amazing array of facial expressions. I read recently where dogs are capable of 100 facial expressions. I wonder who counted. Those adorable expressions have captivated our hearts, have they not? What is interesting is that some of these facial expressions are not typical or should I say, evident, in wolves, from which our dogs descended. ABC News published a study last year which proves that our dogs have mastered the use of their eyebrows to enable them to make more human-like expressions. Domestication “transformed” the anatomy of the dogs’ facial muscles so they can communicate better with us, according to the study. Incredible, isn’t it?

I am amazed at the number of dogs that smile. If you follow the Holiday Barn Pet ResortsFacebook or Instagram page, you will see lots of canine smiles! Scientists are emphatic that dogs do not smile. The fact that a dog will mimic a human smile and mirror it back to us is no different than the dog adapting its eyebrows to communicate an emotion, right? In a few years someone will make that connection and spend millions on the study. They could’ve just asked us.

How can I know my dog better?

As we have determined, spending time with your dog is key to the development of a truly close relationship. The question would be, how do we spend that quality time with our dog? Here are some ideas:

1) Professional dog training at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts provides a great way to get to know your dog. Through consistent and meaningful training and working together, we learn as much about relating to our dogs as they do of us. Training creates a “connection”, and a good connection is reciprocal. Training also reduces frustration for your dog in that they understand acceptable behavior from unacceptable behavior. They can relax and enjoy life without worry that they are doing something that will displease their human.

2) Walks, a very basic dog-human activity, are so important to your dog. It is a wonderful way in which a dog and their human engage the world together, sharing experiences that strengthen the relationship with one another. Years ago, a dog would walk in a pack. There is a powerful mental energy at play when a dog walks with its pack. In an article by Psychology Today, they define the walk as “both an expression of the human-animal bond and a key activity through which the bond is strengthened…”.

3) Respond to your dog’s needs. You will secure your dog’s relationship with you by consistently responding to their needs. If they want attention, give it to them. If they act like they want to cuddle, then cuddle with them. Although a treat for obeying a command is a good thing, don’t always make your dog feel that they have to earn it. Your love (and treats!) can be a “gift” that they get sometimes just because you love them.

4) Spend one-on-one time with your dog, brushing them, teaching them tricks, petting them, running errands, or just sitting together on the couch listening to music. It doesn’t matter. Just be with them.

5) Respect your dog. As we discussed in “The 10 commandments of Canine Respect”, don’t get frustrated with your dog, speak calmly to him, don’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do, respect his instincts.

6) Play with your dog. Just as a parent plays with their child, playing together brings you closer and enriches your life together. Play is a fun and simple way to enjoy the companionship of your dog. Most dogs like to play tug-of-war, hide and seek, or fetch. Learn what your dog likes and indulge him.

7) Participate in an activity where you work with your dog to mutually accomplish a goal. Examples include Agility, Dock Jumping, or Disc Dog. As your dog must rely on the verbal and hand signals from you in order to understand what to do, the trust between you and your dog will grow.

8) LISTEN to your dog. Try to figure out what he is trying to communicate with you. Look at the position of their body, what their ears are doing, how their tail is engaged. Dogs use every part of their body to talk to us and tell us what they are thinking and feeling. Take time to try to learn what your dog’s communication clues are.

9) Pay attention to your dog’s subtle nuances of communication. For example, if your dog goes away to the bedroom when company comes, then you can tell that he/she is not a fan of social gatherings. If your dog pulls the leash away from traffic, then they may find loud truck and motor noises unsettling. If your dog ducks its head and drops its ears when someone pats them on the head, then they probably are not comfortable with it. Once you learn their clues, respond accordingly, i.e., no more patting on the head!

10) TALK to your dog. C’mon, admit it – you love to talk to your dog, right? Our dogs love to hear our voice and will try hard to understand what we are saying. It is only by learning the subtle inflections and tonality of our voice, our gestures and facial expressions, that our dog will begin to understand us.

11) And while you are at it, tell them you love them! Last month, People Magazine published an article about what happens when you say to “I love you” to your dog. When the dogs were told “I love you” by their owners, their heart rates skyrocketed 46%. Awww, that is so sweet!

Knowing your dog well will enhance not only their life but your life as well. It is like having a best friend that understands you and loves you, no matter what. The more time you spend together, the closer you will become.

Jesse just came over to my desk, looked up at me with that snaggletooth doggy-smile of his, then made a circle with his body. That means he is bored and wants to play. That’s my clue! Gotta run!

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Are you interested in having your dog trained? Check out Holiday Barn’s dog training program at our Glen Allen and Midlothian locations.  Training is a great way to help you understand your dog better.

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