Learning to communicate with your dog guarantees a better relationship between the two of you. We spend the majority of time working on this relationship by teaching our dogs to understand us and what we want them to learn. Most of us spend very little time listening to and or watching our dog for what he is communicating. This isn’t because of an inherent selfishness on our part but, more likely, a lack of understanding the dog’s communications. Unless you have taken the time to do a fair amount of research or attend classes you wouldn’t have the basis of information to know what your dog is trying to tell you.
One of the most important things your dog attempts to communicate is his stress level. Just like humans, dogs find particular things stressful throughout their day. For the most part, these moments pass without incident, the dog relaxes and we are none-the-wiser. However, there may be daily situations which cause your dog stress that you would both benefit from changing if you knew when those instances were occurring.
Dogs display obvious stress signals, many of which any observant owner would probably take note. For example, a dog that is cowering in a corner with tail tucked and whining is likely a dog experiencing stress. There are more subtle behaviors that may have been displayed prior to the dog cowering, whining and tucking his tail. Specifically, the dog likely backed away or retreated from the stressor into a position he felt would be safer. This behavior is often a precursor to more full-blown stress behavior and could assist in predicting volatile behavior.
There are many signs of stress easily observed in dogs, listed below are just a few:
-Turning away with whites of the eyes visible
-Posturing to imply bigger size
-Ears pinned back and low against the head
-Low body posture
-Tension around the eyes and mouth
These behaviors, taken with context, likely indicate a stressed dog and could signal a pending outburst or even attack. Unless the stress causing stimulus is removed, it is reasonable to assume the dog will eventually respond with some type of defense or aggression. A stressed dog may lunge, snap or even bite.
As dog owners, it is our responsibility to learn to understand the messages our dogs send. We must learn to identify what causes stress in our dogs. After the stimulus is identified we must take steps to either avoid or normalize the stressor. Continuing to allow a dog to encounter the same stressful stimulus without helping the dog adapt is simply irresponsible and invitation for trouble. As dog owners, we take on the role of pack leader and with that comes the responsibility for responding to the signals the dog is sending. This will reinforce to the dog the bond you have forged and ultimately prevent avoidable volatile situations.
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