I was a dog trainer for seven years. My work evolved on an almost daily basis, with the more I read and the more I saw to be true from
experience. I shudder to think how little I knew when I first started. Yes, I could teach dogs how to sit and lay down, how to leave it and drop it, how to stay and how to come, and a whole lot more, but I did not know a great deal about how to understand dogs. I made it my job to learn that.
Because life happens I got out of dog training but what I learned in those years, and since, has put me in a great position for helping dogs and owners in new ways. I’m a dog copywriter now, and my extensive experience with them makes my writing so much more meaningful. I don’t run classes anymore but I can still teach.
I can stand on the shoulders of giants, too, people who have devoted their lives to helping us understand dogs, and what I glean from them I am compelled to share with everyone that reads my blog. There are many trainers, behaviorists, and writers who are gripping me right now, but I am focusing on one in particular – Norwegian trainer Turid Rugaas. Her work on the signals that dogs send out to each other to communicate (she calls them calming signals) and to us is second to none and highly insightful.
I will be covering signals in future posts, so stand by for those, because they are life-changing. Let me explain. In 2012, Denver TV news anchor Kyle Dyer was bitten in the face on camera by a dog who had recently been rescued from an icy lake. Watching the footage, the dog, stressed out after the perilous rescue, had clearly been giving out signals that it was extremely uncomfortable being in the studio. The last straw for the dog came when the unwitting anchor put her face right up to his. It couldn’t take anymore and bit her. If only one person in that studio could have read his simple signs the incident would not have happened.
One Mom’s Quest to Understand her Dog
In one of my classes, a mom came to me with her new rescue poodle. She was distraught because although all her kids loved the dog, the dog didn’t seem to love them. She thought the dog could possibly bite her kids and she told me that if they couldn’t sort it out they were going to return it to the shelter.
Turns out it was just simple miscommunication between two species. The sweet children were doing nothing wrong. They were trying to show their new pet that they loved him by hugging him and getting right in his face to kiss him. Most dogs do not like being hugged and kissed, even by their beloved owners. And this new rescue was still trying to settle into its new home and was under stress.
I asked the kids to interact with him as they were and quickly observed that the dog was trying to communicate that he wasn’t
comfortable with their behavior but the children didn’t know how to understand what he was saying. It was just as simple as that.
I explained to the family that a new rescue needs time to settle down into a family and get comfortable with them. And that although hugging and kissing help humans to feel loved, dogs can often be very afraid of that. The children got it immediately. They went home to try out the new approach. Next week when they came back to class the family couldn’t wait to tell me that I had saved the dog from being returned to the shelter. When the kids backed off from the sweet loving the dog relaxed, felt much more comfortable, and any signs of aggression toward the children ceased. Talk about making my job worthwhile. I was ecstatic.
In one of my next blog posts, I’ll concentrate on puppies. Turid has some wonderful advice for families on understanding puppy behavior, so I’m going to explore that soon. I hope you’ll pop back to keep reading all my informational topics. There are going to be just-for-fun posts, too, and recipes. If there’s something specific you’d like me to cover, drop me a comment below. My first blog post also touches on how to understand your dog, so if you’ve not read it yet please click here!