You may think you’re getting pawsitive reactions from your dog but what we think they like may be miles apart from what they actually want from us. So, we talked to dog behaviorists to unleash the truth about what we’re accidentally doing to frustrate our beloved pets.
Changing Your Mind
“There is no right or wrong when it comes to individual house rules,” Russell Becque, CEO of The Academy of Modern Canine Behavior & Training tells us, “but when you’re creating a behavior with your dog, make sure it works for you when they’re a puppy and also when they’re a 35lb dog.
“For example, if you let your puppy jump all over you every time you walk through the door but then get annoyed when they leap up and knock you over when they’re fully-grown, it’s confusing. So only nurture behaviors you are happy for them to mature with.”
Not being clear is something Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviorist Rosie Barclay MPhil CCAB also thinks is really unfair on dogs: “One minute you’re rewarding him for jumping up at you saying ‘hello good boy’ and then the next, you’re telling him to ‘get down!’.
“He barks at the loud noise outside after you say to him ‘what’s that?’ and then you tell him to ‘be quiet!’
“All these contradictions are likely to confuse your dog and he won’t know what to do so may jump up even higher or bark at every noise to warn it away in case you tell him off.
“Think about how you might be sending mixed messages and how difficult it will be for your dog to understand clearly what it is you’re asking of them.”
Hugging Your Dog
“A hug may be the norm for a social greeting for humans, but it isn’t for dogs,” Nathalie Ingham, Canine Behaviorist and Training Manager at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London tells us.
Hugging your pet invades their personal space
“Subtle stress signals can be missed when you’re hugging your pet and this could lead to a negative reaction, so it’s about recognizing when your dog is uncomfortable.
“Hugging your pet invades their personal space and limits an ‘escape route’ for them to take themselves away from an uncomfortable situation. A family pet may tolerate a hug but it doesn’t mean they like it.”
“Dogs smell stuff to learn territory and to pick up information,” Becque explains.
“There comes a time when you have to lead the walk and say ‘no you’re not sniffing like that all the time’ but by the same token, I actively allow my dogs to sniff because it’s mental stimulation for them – it’s how they gain information of their area and territory.”
Telling Them Off
“Your dog might begin to ‘distrust’ you if you use aversive training techniques that are punishing or painful to her,” behaviorist Barclay says.
“Instead, use rewarding techniques such as healthy treats, praise and toys to tell her what she can do, rather than telling her off for showing behavior you don’t want her to do.”
Dressing Them Up
“As tempting as it is to put accessories on your dog, it isn’t something that is natural to them,” says Ingham.
“Dogs have their own coat of fur, so there’s really no need for any extras. In extreme weather conditions, we may support them with coats to protect them further from the elements but it’s important that they are introduced to them gradually and carefully to ensure they are comfortable, don’t feel restricted in them, and that you don’t end up hurting them when you are putting them on/taking them off.
“There are certain items that dogs have to wear as a legal requirement such as a collar and a tag. It’s important to get puppies used to wearing collars and harnesses so that they are ready for heading off on their walks when they are fully vaccinated.”
Not Reading Your Dog’s Signals
“They give you a lot of signals,” Becque tells us. “They’ll pace a lot if they’re uncomfortable or they’ll be tense and you can see this through their body language.
“If they’re relaxed, they lay down without a care in the world, and you can see that.
“If they’re not relaxed, they’ll give you an open eye and a wide open eye is showing you the dog is stressed.
“Licking their lips a lot is also a sign of stress and yawning can be a sign of stress too, even though a lot of people read it as the dog being relaxed.
“And of course, there are the other obvious signs like them backing away, growling or raising a lip but that’s a more extreme level.”
Taking Things Away From Them
According to Barclay, your dog might get ‘angry’ if you keep trying to take things away from them.
Consistency and predictability are key experiences that will make your dog love you even more.
“How would you like it if someone kept removing your dinner or stopped you playing and you had no idea when this was likely to happen?
“Instead of taking food away allow them to eat quietly and add more rather than taking it away and give a consistent signal such as ‘all done’ when the fun is ending so they can predict what is likely to happen or not happen next. Consistency and predictability are key experiences that will make your dog love you even more.”
Picking Them Up
According to Ingham, some dogs just don’t like constantly being handled and picked up: “A bit like hugging, this reinforces the idea that there is no escape and can make them feel that they’re not in control of the situation, which could worry your dog.
“If you want to show your dog love and affection than it’s best to pet your dog where they are most comfortable with, keeping it calm.
Every dog is different so look out for any signs they are showing stress – these can be very subtle – a few examples being tense or wide eyes and licking their lips.”
Taking Your Dog To The Cafe
“A lot of dogs find the situation where there are lots of people, like a cafe situation, stressful,” Becque tells us.
Don’t throw your dog into a new type of atmosphere just because you enjoy it.
“I’ve actually dealt with dogs who have bitten people in bars where they haven’t been able to cope with the atmosphere. Even though they’ve been in there 30 times before and there’s never been an incident, that doesn’t mean they’re coping with it, or enjoying it.
“Pubs are often loud, people are elevated and children are running around and a lot of dogs just can’t cope with this. So don’t throw your dog into a new type of atmosphere just because you enjoy it.
“If you do, learn to read your dog’s body language to see if they’re relaxed or not. Otherwise, it may be better to leave the dog at home in a secure environment that it knows and trusts.”
Ingham agrees that being in big crowds can also be too much for your dog: “It can be overwhelming for a dog and can cause them a lot of stress. When dogs feel uncomfortable, they will want to take themselves away from the situation, which they may not be able to do if they are in a place with lots of people walking past and bumping into them.”
Seeking Emotional Comfort From Them
“Dogs pick up on our moods very quickly,” Becque says. “They’re in tune with us more than I think even experts realize.
They study us, our reactions and our body language so they know us as well as we know ourselves – if not better.
“And, dogs pick up on the pheromones we give off for our different moods very quickly and they will know whether we’re in a good mood, bad mood or are feeling anxious.
“It can be hard for dogs to cope when they realize something is wrong with you so be wary of that. They study us, our reactions and our body language so they know us as well as we know ourselves – if not better.”
Ignoring Them After You Have A Baby
“This can be a difficult time for a dog because they’re going from being treated like the baby of the family to now being pushed out because a new member of the pack has arrived,” says Becque.
“It can be resolved but it can cause issues at the outset.”