Dog’s Eye View: Get out of my face
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Have you ever been around someone and had them move so close to you that you feel uncomfortable? Elevators in the city just give me the creeps. People are way too close and pressing in for space. And there’s no way out. Well, did you know that many dogs feel the same way when meeting new people?
Since I have a little dog at home who takes her own time to decide if new people are safe when guests arrive, I immediately tell them not to try to pet her. Invariably, someone sticks their hand out to allow her to smell how friendly they are.
This is absolutely the wrong thing to do to a dog who is shy or fearful. Dogs can smell you without making contact. Their sense of smell is at least 10,000 times better than our human nose. So, no need to get that close.
For dogs, who are shy or fearful, invading their space is impolite and threatening. They need time to observe you and see that you are safe. They will watch how you interact with their human family. Your behavior will dictate how quickly they will feel comfortable.
If you press contact, you are not reading their communication signals. Those signals might include, standing near or slightly behind their owner, backing up as you get closer, ears flat or eyes dilated.
Another touchy situation is getting in the face of the dog to show them who is the boss. This is asking for trouble in so many ways. You might think you are teaching them a lesson, but they interpret it as a conflict or challenge.
And most of the time, your reaction doesn’t fit the crime. The timing of a reprimand needs to be given within three to five seconds of the offense. A prime example of this is finding a mess when you get home. The party is already over. Your dog doesn’t feel guilt, but his behavior looks like it. He is responding to the emotional outpouring from you.
He started out happy to see you like always, but your behavioral response doesn’t make sense to him. If you reprimand or punish the dog for something that happened hours ago, he will start to fear you coming home. Let’s call that “owner return anxiety.” The next time you leave and return, you just might see the same reaction even though no crime has taken place.
Do you really want to instill fear into your relationship? The next time you lean down to get in your dog’s face with only love in your heart, how is he supposed to know the difference? Humans just don’t get it.
We know so much more about canine communication and their various behavioral displays. It pays dividends to read up on dog body language and learn to interpret in the context in which it occurs. We can mimic some of those communication signals and enhance our relationship with our canine companions.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training in Northwest Colorado.
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