By Trish Manche
A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar called Canine Communication with Karen Deeds at All Fur Fun Training & Event Center in Addison, Texas. Karen is a Certified Dog Behaviorist Consultant who evaluates and trains dogs who are having a rough time, particularly with aggression.
I have to admit that when I realized the seminar was 4 hours long on a Sunday afternoon, I was a bit worried. However, she had so much interesting information to share, time went by rather quickly. While I feel I have a better understanding, there is so much to learn! She had lots of videos to demonstrate exactly what behavior she was outlining. It is definitely worth the cost of the seminar and the time spent. Below are a few things from my notes. Any mistakes in the information are mine. She is a treasure trove of knowledge and it was impossible to capture it all!
Anyone who has attended dog training knows, it’s almost all human training. Dogs are going to do what is best for them, keeping in mind that this is like a three year old deciding what is best. We just have to convince them that what we want is best for them and will give them the reward they are looking to obtain. Why chase the cat when I can stay right here and get pieces of chicken, that’s a pretty good deal. Do it consistently enough and the dog will make the decision to do the right thing.
Karen talked about the dangers of labeling and that it’s not really helpful such as fearful, stubborn, dominant, etc. If someone brings their dog and just says, “well my dog is so stubborn, doesn’t listen, etc”, she may ask what do you mean? “well stubborn, you know”. You need to be able to break down what you are seeing to really get to the truth of what is happening. There is a stress ”ladder” for rating dogs and just like humans, the dogs may not follow the order of the levels of stress.
- Displacement – what she labels as “Give me a minute” where the dog’s behavior is to avoid conflict. This may include lip licking, sniffing, scratching, paw lift, shaking off
- Appeasement – wants to avoid or escape hostility, but no fight or flight response triggered. More lip licking, lowered head, submissive grin, squinty eyes
- Low Level Stress – warning, much like dogs warn each other. Ears back, jumping, dancing, mouthy, pet may walk away. A dog excitedly jumping up, may not be a happy dog.
- Moderate Stress – turns their head looking everywhere else and does not want to make eye contact, lumpy whiskers like a snarl is staring, jumping, basically asking for help.
- Extreme Stress – Stiff body, braced legs, tucked tail thigh mouth with facial tension and furrowed brow., panting with a wide tongue, drooling, sweaty paws and some dogs even shed excessively.
- Distance Increasing – this is where fight or flight really kicks in. The dog may look at another dog for permission to move. Arched back, dilating pupils, whale eyes (white showing), hard eyes, ears back. The dog may or may not growl or bark. If they are not growling or barking, they can be even more frightening.
These are just a few of the things I learned to look for and have seen some of these behaviors before, but hope to never see others.
Things to think about to help you understand what you are seeing:
- A tail wag is not always a sign of a friendly dog. Is the tail wagging quickly, tight, and tense or relaxed and sweeping?
- If a dog’s mouth is open and you can see all their teeth, this is less threatening than a partially closed tense jaw with almost no teeth showing.
- Are their ears laid back or are their ears forward and alert? If the ears are back, they are likely uncomfortable.
- Are the eyes hard and menacing, or soft and friendly? Check the eyes but don’t stare directly in their eyes.
- Is the dog’s spine ridged and straight or is there some curve? Curves mean they are more relaxed.
We talked a bit about how to approach a dog including:
- Making your approach at an angle versus directly which can be more threatening,
- No direct eye contact because it will be perceived as a threat. Keep your head averted.
- Don’t bend at the waist over a dog as this can make the dog feel boxed in or feel like you are looming over them.
- Always use a soft voice and keep your face and mouth relaxed.
- When petting the dog, watch your duration and don’t use two hands.
Some of these things are common sense, but I know I have broken most of these rules when meeting dogs. It was interesting to learn how these things are perceived by the dog. The very best thing to do is let the dog come to you.
When I’ve worked at Meet & Greets, there have rarely been dogs that don’t rush over for attention, but always be cautious when meeting a new dog or one you don’t know well. When our team goes out to look for dogs to bring into the rescue, they know the types of dogs they are looking to bring in. These are dogs that are genuinely friendly and want to be around people and other dogs. Some are not dog friendly and that’s ok, we just have to find the right situation for that dog. It’s our mission as fosters to teach them to trust, meet their needs for food and exercise, a few manners and give them love.