Don’t make me beg (don’t make me bite)

Scared dog at hoarding siteDogs try. You have to give them at least that much. They try to figure us out, try to do what we want them to do, and most do a darn good job of it even when we don’t make it easy for them. It’s harder for fearful, shy or anxious dogs to sort us out. It’s not easy to be at your thinking best when you’re scared and stressed.

One of the first things I do when I meet any dog is to find out what common languages we share. A dog who notices and cares about the treats in my hand and plops their butt down in front of me and gazes up expectantly, understands. This behavior has worked in the past to get them a treat, and I do not disappoint them. I want them to know that I understand them as well. This, probably more than the treat itself, helps many dogs relax. It provides the same kind of relief you might feel when you’ve been lost in a strange place and someone hands you a road map.

Life is easier for dogs who have a vocabulary that gets them what they want or need.

“If I stare at the slow moving one long enough she will share that sandwich with me.”

“Scratch at the door and the one who couldn’t tell the difference between the scent of boy dog pee and girl dog pee if her life depended on it, will come and open it.”

“Bark when outside and one of the ones that can’t even hear the nest of baby mice in the walls will let me inside.”

It’s up to us to help them learn which behaviors are going to work best to get what they want. And also up to us to help them understand when asking isn’t an option (try to get this across to a frisbee-crazed border collie).

Dogs that are scared have it rough. Not only do their fear and anxiety make it harder for them to learn to communicate with people, there’s a good chance that in the past they have tried and their requests were ignored or disregarded. A dog that lowered their head was still handled, kissed or hugged. A dog that looked away was still approached. A dog that went belly up ended up with a giant hovering over them. A dog that growled was threatened and punished.

We can help dogs out by learning more about canine body language. By doing this we can respond more appropriately to them and become better advocates for them. “No, that dog is not trying to dominate you and become leader of the pack, he’s terrified and doing the only thing he can to convince you to leave him alone.”

Most dogs start by asking nicely, but we shouldn’t expect that they’ll plead with us forever.

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18 comments so far

  1. Carol's Critter Corner on

    Fearful dogs do have it rough. Who would want to feel like that all the time. Hard to relax and just enjoy life. Extra love and patience for Fearful dogs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You said it Carol. A double dose of patience to go please!

  2. Lorie Huston on

    As usual, another great post, Debbie. Finding a way to understand one another and having patience with each other truly can go a long way in any relationship, two-legged or four-legged. Especially true with frightened dogs though.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Lorie! Most of my dogs are patient enough with me, but that darn border collie….

  3. honeysjourney on

    This is defiantly a keeper post very short and to the point, thanks

  4. Laurie on

    Great topic, Deb. I see two parts to it: 1. the critical importance of being able to read a dog’s body language and 2. knowing what to do or what not to do next.

    I’ve found it more challenging managing other people around my dogs than the dogs themselves. Women are the worst offenders, even experienced dog owners.

    I have a gorgeous foster dog that people gravitate towards. While we have worked through many of her fears, she is still very spooky around people so I always tell them immediately to just let her be and that she is afraid of them.

    The first reaction is always something like “Aww, dogs have a sense about people and know that I like them” followed by a lunge in her direction to give her a big hug”.

    I’ve learned to anticipate and act quickly in those situations. I can’t tell you how many people take it personally when a dog is afraid of them or I won’t let them approach.

    It doesn’t matter that you love or “have a way with dogs”. This dog doesn’t want you anywhere near her and is telling you in so many ways if you would only “listen”.

    Thanks for letting me vent, Deb. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • melfr99 on

      Laurie – I totally agree! I have had the same issues. Daisy prefers to approach people on her own terms and usually from behind so she can sniff them first. She is more afraid of women than men which makes it hard sometimes. Usually my issues is with kids who don’t get it when I say “No”. They think that all dogs will want a pet.

      If only more people could try and understand what a dog is saying instead of assuming they must know what we are saying. A couple of lessons in dog body language would do the dog world a lot of good.

  5. Lizzie on

    I agree with Laurie with regard to other people. Heck why do these folk go around with the attitude that any and every dog should be approached, and then take offence when you tell them to keep their dog, (who is off lead and deaf to their owners commands), and themselves, away from Gracie. Are they blind? Can they not see that my dog is scared by the way that she’s glued to the ground, ears back and eyes wide? Gracie could not be more clear if she could speak!

    I have even had people tell me that I should not be out with a dog ‘like that’. My answer to that is, at least my dog IS under control and on a lead, whereas their’s is not and if they hadn’t allowed their dog to approach in the first place, there would be no issue, for them.

    Just because Gracie is not fully able to deal with so called normality does not mean that she should be kept hidden away. It’s rather like having a special needs child, who somehow has to make sense of the world around them.

    My Husband says that I shouldn’t expect people to understand that Gracie is scared, and I say that I don’t want their understanding, I just want them to be responsible for their own dogs behaviour and leave us alone!

    I hasten to add that this does not happen every day, very rarely in fact, but when I do encounter ignorance it just makes my blood boil ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  6. fearfuldogs on

    Go on get it out, you’ll feel better, both of you! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    It’s a given that there will be people who will not understand how to interact with a fearful, or be able to ‘no’ for an answer. I will admit to coming to enjoy standing up for my dog and telling people not to talk to him or try to touch him. I’ve discovered a boldness and forthrightness I never knew I had in me! I think that because I’ve done this with Sunny he’s able to be out around people in many situations, he rarely has to take matters into his own hands and tell people off himself. If people ask if he bites, I tell them that he can. That usually slows most down. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Kristine on

    Another great post. I love the way you word things. Learning more about dogs, fearful dogs, has given me a better relationship with myself and other humans as well. A little bit of understanding goes a long way.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for commenting Kristine. I think that we are learning that we have more things in common with animals than we might have once liked to believe. I think it made it easier for us to treat animals in ways that we’d never consider with a human.

  8. melfr99 on

    Another well-written post Debbie. Thanks on behalf of fearful dog owners everywhere!

  9. Lizzie on

    Hey Debbie, jUst wondered if you had seen the latest video of Gracie? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH7fN0bOgBo

    • Debbie on

      I liked her rug imitation ๐Ÿ˜‰

      What eyes she has!

      Sent from my iPod

      • Lizzie on

        Yes with those eyes, she looks rather like a grey seal I think. Who could not be drawn to her ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Deborah Flick on

    Once again you nailed it. I agree with you that we humans have a long way to go in learning to read dog body language and learning to respect it and adjusting our behavior accordingly. Without really thinking about, we, us humans, so often abuse our power vis a vis dogs, like when we hover over a dog that’s gone belly up, as you note, or pick up a small dog whose head in down and tail tucked. Interestingly, I visiting my parents in AZ this week.They have two rescued Yorkies. Both are very tiny and very shy dogs. How easy it would be for me to just pick them up and hold them (which I would love to do) just because I can. But, I restrain myself. Slowly they are checking me out. But, it’s clear by their behavior—they give me a sniff and then scurry off, come back for a sniff and scurry off—that they aren’t comfortable with me. Unfortunately they are not interested in food. So I just wait. It’s their call.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Look forward to hearing more about those Yorkies!

  11. Donna in VA on

    I met a neighbor yesterday while walking Max. I was struck by the body language she used to get Max to walk over to her and sniff her (unusual for him, he doesn’t usually want to meet strangers.) She sort of curled her upper body forward so her hands lowered to a little above her knees. Her hands were loose, cupped sort of towards each other. He calmly walked over and sniffed and then walked away. She did not try to pet him but she got a lot more from him than most people would have. She said she has a cat – maybe that is her approach to meeting cats. Anyway, I am putting that mental picture away for future use – it was very non-threatening but made Max curious to go sniff her hands.


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