by Morgan Pierce, CMT

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a believer in the theory that our dogs should never experience stress. What I am saying is that advocating for your dog can help your dog learn to handle stress and also build a trusting relationship between a dog and their human.

What does “Advocating for You Dog” mean?

This term is being used a lot lately in the world of dogs and it means slightly different things to different people. To me, advocating for your dog means that you become their voice. Our dogs are amazing critters, but they can’t speak to us or others that may be making them anxious, nervous or flat-out fearful. As their advocates we need to teach our dogs that they can count on us in times of stress. If we do this properly, our dogs will not need to act out aggressively toward other dogs, people or objects. Instead, they will come to us to ask us to fix the situation.

How do we do it?

Step 1: Body Language

If someone said to you, “Ich muss die Toilette benutzen.” You might look at them like they’re crazy, unless you happened to understand German. This happens quite frequently to our dogs; they say something that isn’t understood, so they escalate their communication until we DO understand it. This can be troublesome if it’s a situation where the dog feels they need to bite because they have no other recourse. What is the easiest solution to this problem? Educate yourself on canine body language so you can understand what they are trying to tell you. Here are some simple stress cues to watch for:

  1. Displacement Behaviors are normal canine behaviors that are displayed out of context that indicate conflict and/or anxiety. Some of these behaviors include yawning when they’re not tired, licking when there is no food present or sudden scratching behavior.
  2. When your dog raises only one paw, it can mean your dog is worried or trying to decide on a correct behavior. I tend to think of this as a human saying, “Ummmmm….” while appearing confused.

Half moon eye, sometimes known as whale eye, is what I translate as a human saying, “I know what’s about to happen, and I’m uncomfortable about it.” (Like when the crazy relative is coming at you and you know they’re going to give you that uncomfortable kiss right on the mouth.) When this eye is paired with slightly backwards ears and a downward tail posture, it’s definitely an unhappy pup!

Step 2: Situational Awareness

 

Now that you’re seeing and understanding your dog’s stress signals, you can learn how to keep an eye out for things that might cause that stress. Until you’ve spoken to a trainer to help guide you through the proper way to desensitize your dog to these stressful things, you will need to avoid them. This may put you into some awkward social situations, but it will be worth it in the end! Here are some helpful tips:

 

  1. You’re at Lowe’s with a dog that doesn’t appreciate strange people touching them and you come across one of those pushy people. “All dogs love me!” they say as they reach to pet your dog.

In this situation, I will literally body block the person from touching the dog while offering a polite smile and something like, “They’re not fans of being pet by strangers.” Even better, I will have been aware enough of my surroundings to spot the person eyeballing my dog and I’ll go the other direction.

  1. You have a dog that tolerates other dogs, but isn’t a huge fan. Your friend wants to visit and bring their lunatic Labrador with them. Do you lock your dog up and allow the strange dog to come have the run of the house?

A good solution to this problem is to politely tell your friends that their dog makes yours uncomfortable and until they get some training done, please leave the dog at home. Awkward? Well, yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

  1. Some dogs, including one of my own, are nervous around children. Even dogs that are raised with children can sometimes become overwhelmed by them. Not reading these situations properly can lead to disastrous consequences.

Be sure to watch all interactions with your dog and children because it only takes a second for things to go horribly wrong. Look out for those stress signals mentioned above and teach your children what they mean. If your dog exhibits those signals, let them know you have their back and stop the interaction.

Step 3: Find help

You’re already doing this! By pursuing training, you’re taking the time to properly learn to advocate for your dog. You’re also helping to stop stress and fear by dealing with it properly. Congratulations!