Other secrets your dog isn’t telling you

I wish our dogs could talk. Actually they do. But they speak dog, not human languages. Because of resources like ispeakdog.org, we can learn to understand what they are trying to tell us.

But I’m afraid many of our dogs are too polite to level with us. If they were, here are some things you might hear from them:

  • “I’m sorry I’m grumpy, but I’m in pain.” last year, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Daniel Mills, a leading Veterinarian Behaviorist from the University of Lincoln in England. One thing that really stood out to me was his observation that more than half of the cases which come to him for behavior problems turn out to be cases of undiagnosed low-grade chronic pain. Once the dog’s pain was addressed, the behavior problem resolved. If your dog’s behavior changes suddenly and without apparent cause, you might consider going to the vet to rule out a medical issue. It should come as no surprise that our dogs act a bit grumpy when they don’t feel well. I do too.

  • “That guilty look isn’t actually guilt.” Even though it can really look like it, dogs don’t actually feel guilt. What they do feel is fear. They’ve learned when we look or sound a certain way, we are upset and that can lead to something scary for them. It’s even possible for dogs to learn that the combination of poop on the floor and your arrival home predicts something bad is about to happen. That’s why Fido might appear guilty even though it was Spot who peed in the hallway. When we add the fact that we know late punishment doesn’t actually work, making our dogs afraid seems especially unfair. For more about dogs looking guilty when they aren’t, check out this article.

  • “Please don’t pat my head.” I see people do this frequently while the dog squints and shirks away a bit. They may love the attention, but really, who likes to have their heads patted? Pet them instead on their necks, chins, or shoulders instead.

  • “I’m a bit uncomfortable on my leash.” Dogs quickly learn that a leash limits them. For some dogs, that’s frustrating because they can’t get to the people or other dogs they want to greet. For other dogs, they are worried because they’ve learned that they can’t get away if something scary happens. In both cases, your dog may be pulling on the leash, barking, or even growling in a way that looks aggressive. They may be trying to close distance (to say hi) or create distance (to get away from the scary trigger). Our job is to figure out which is happening and to address the need appropriately (by teaching appropriate behavior or helping them feel safe).

  • “I’m bored.” I suspect most of our dogs are bored more often than we realize. Just as it’s our responsibility to keep our dogs physically fit, it’s also our ethical responsibility to provide adequate enrichment. There are so many ways to do that. Puzzle toys instead of food in bowls is just one of many ways to start. There’s a cool Facebook group all about enrichment for dogs. Check it out here.

None of us really knows what’s going on inside the mind of a dog. But research has given us a lot of information to make reasonable guesses. I hope these points help you decode some of the things your dog might be trying to tell you  

Now, please, put down your phone and go play with your dogs. They asked me to tell you they are bored.


Tim SteeleComment