It’s been a demanding day at work. As you walk into your house, you dream of relaxing in a comfortable chair, a nice glass of wine in hand. You sigh as your dog awakens from her slumber and trots over to greet you. What a lucky girl! It’s easy to be a little jealous of her life, which is seemingly free of stress and rife with fun and relaxation.
But many dogs live with plenty of angst, and unfortunately, it’s often of our making. Canine behaviors that might seem normal to many dog owners are actually signs of tension, uneasiness, and even fright. The needy dog that follows you from room to room and bugs you for attention is a stressed-out pooch, and that might also be true for the one who tears up your house when you leave. Submissive urination, pacing, panting, not sleeping well, averting her gaze from you, furrowing her brow: All are signs that your four-legged buddy needs to chill out.
We humans need to be a bit smarter about how we behave around our dogs. After all, we expect good behavior from them; don’t they deserve the same from us? To that end, I’ve compiled some suggestions for how we should comport ourselves around our canine companions:
- Let sleeping dogs lie; they don’t like being touched and awakened any more than you do. If you must rouse them, say their name quietly, or tap your foot on the floor and allow the vibration to do the job.
- How do you like it when people touch you or grab food from your plate while you’re dining? Let your dog eat in peace. The exceptions are training exercises in which you positively interact with your dog while she’s eating to discourage what’s called “resource guarding.”
- If you’re angry with your dog, don’t yell at her or lean toward her while shaking your fist or pointing your finger. It might seem benign to you, but this might be what she sees:
- Don’t punish your dog for things that are your fault. If you leave a sandwich near the edge of the table and walk away, you can’t expect her to resist such a great temptation.
- Here are the words from my favorite Far Side cartoon:
- Don’t constantly yank on the leash while walking your dog. Teach her to appreciate a loose leash. And it’s not realistic to expect her to not want to run ahead, sniff, and explore her environment during a walk, but there are rules.
- Don’t stare at your dog (and especially at someone else’s dog). In doggie language, it means you want to interact in an aggressive or confrontational way.
It’s difficult for a dog to overcome her natural propensities, and it’s equally hard for us to do the same. Either party can irritate the other, but humans have the unique gift of self-awareness. By becoming attentive to how we treat the dog, and to our reaction to her behavior, we can alter our conduct. And that means a happier, less-stressed pooch!