By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
The other day, my husband asked me, “If you could have all dog parents do one thing, what would it be?” What a question! My mind instantly started going through all the many important things humans can learn about and from dogs. I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing. I was able to narrow it down to three though!
1. Learn how to read your dog’s body language.
This is probably one of the most important things you can do. When we learn how to read canine body language, we start noticing subtle changes in them when they are unsure, nervous, distressed or worried. Our dogs communicate all the time with their bodies and we tend to only notice the really overt signs (like barking, lunging, growling, etc). If we start to notice those subtle signs though, we can help change the environment so our dog feels more comfortable. This could mean moving away from a scary truck, asking a person to stop petting our dog, or inviting our dog to rest on a mat away from the busy child. Imagine if you were in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language. How happy and grateful you would feel when someone came up and spoke your same language!
The more we learn our dog’s body language, the better we can “hear” them when they are communicating with us. This can prevent bad experiences from happening and it can clue us in to what our dog really likes and doesn’t like.
Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, wrote a great article in Whole Dog Journal about learning to read your dog’s body language (https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/behavior/learn-to-read-your-dogs-body-signals/).
2. Be patient with your dog and don’t take it personally.
Living with another being can have its frustrating moments, whether it’s a person, dog, cat, bird, etc. Where things tend to go wrong is when we take it personally.
Behavior does not happen in a void. That means that there is something in the environment that cues a behavior. For example: A dog is not barking because he’s aggressive. He is barking because there is a dog across the street and that is too close for him. If the dog were not there, he would not bark. When we start to realize this, that helps us to become more patient with them. We see why the behavior is happening…which then let’s us change the environment to set them up for success!
3. Let your dog sniff.
This one is huge! Sniffing is SO important to the well-being of our dogs. Scenting takes up a third of your dog’s brain…how they smell is how we see! A recent study done also shows that sniffing lowers a dog’s heart rate, even if they are moving while sniffing. Being able to do this very natural behavior on a walk or in a park is great mental enrichment. It always breaks my heart to see people pull their dogs along on walks when they want to stop and sniff. Instead of “Let them eat cake”, I say “Let them sniff!”