To advocate means to support or promote the interests of another. Protecting your dog from physical and emotional harm requires you to be aware, alert, and proactive.
To me, this means putting the physical and emotional well-being of your dog before your own needs, and not worrying if you hurt the feelings of a complete stranger in the street if you need to speak up and advocate to protect your fur family. This includes protecting your dog from injury from other dogs, and from other people. It also means that you may need to speak up for your dog in a variety of situations; after all, your dog can’t speak for themselves! Also, being your dog’s advocate builds trust between you and your dog. Ultimately you want your dog to trust that you will only put them into situations that they can comfortably handle.
Here are some important foundation skills you need in order to promote and maintain your dog’s physical and emotional well-being:
Understand Your Dog’s Body Language
Learning how dogs communicate, both with their voice and their body language, is an invaluable skill. Take the time to learn and understand the frequent signals that dogs display. It’s important to learn the nuances of that language, especially as it relates to stress signals, so that you can accurately read the dog’s body language and then draw a conclusion as to what your dog is feeling. Stress develops from an inability to cope with a current situation. By understanding and observing your dog’s body language, you’ll know when to intervene or how to change the environment to reduce your dog’s stress.
Make sure you look at the dog’s entire body, as individual signals have different meanings depending on the context of the situation. Begin first by observing and noting each individual signal you see the dog display. Once you’ve noted the signals, you’re better able to draw a conclusion as to whether it’s a stressful situation for the dog. Breed characteristics can complicate the dog’s message, as can docking of tails and/or ears, so please also take these into consideration.
We will cover more on dogs body language and communication in the future so check back if that is of interest to you.
Develop Situational Awareness
When you are out with your dog, scan the environment for things that could adversely affect your dog. If you are going to own a dog, you need to be responsible and aware when you take it out in the public. If you are aware of things that may adversely affect your dog BEFORE they happen, you have the time to change direction, or make a plan before there is a situation.
It’s not unlike walking with a small child through a crowded shop; you need to steer clear of strange (stressed!) dogs, people who have had too many alcoholic beverages, broken glass on the street, and so on, all the while interacting and education your child, pointing out the pretty flowers, the smell of yummy food, the fun street busker juggling on the corner.
As the adult member of the team, you have a responsibility to filter your dog’s experience of the world so that they can avoid unnecessarily scenarios that may be stressful or dangerous that are beyond her ability to comprehend or absorb.
Manage Your Dog’s Stress
Think about a time when your day just wasn’t your best day. Everything was against you. You get up late. You get a flat tyre on the way to work. Your boss is in a bad mood and piles the work load onto you. When you get home that evening, your significant other is still complaining about something that happened days ago… That’s enough to make any of us to lose sense of humour and just say ENOUGH!
Multiple stressors can compound the stress your dog feels, too. As you understand dog body language, you’ll begin to see how different situations may affect your dog. Are they happy? Are they uncomfortable? Are they scared? As your dog’s advocate you may need to intervene or change the environment to help your dog.
Here are five things you can do to help your dog be more comfortable in a specific situation:
- Assess the situation. Look around and attempt to determine the stressor or stressors that are causing your dog to feel uncomfortable.
- Increase distance between your dog and the perceived threat. Sometimes distance alone will help your dog become more comfortable.
- Be prepared to remove your dog from the situation if increasing distance didn’t help. Don’t be tempted to make the dog endure an uncomfortable environment. Doing so can increase stress and also exacerbate the dog’s behavior.
- Change your dog’s opinion about the thing that made it uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s a small child and the dog hasn’t been around children. Instead of a dog thinking, “A child is a scary thing!” you want her to think, “A child is a good thing!” Counter-conditioning and desensitisation is the appropriate way to accomplish this and is very effective when implemented slowly and consistently over time. (DO NOT attempt to desensitise your dog to children if you are not equipped with the knowledge of how to do so safely).
- If you feel you’re in over your head get in touch with us at Down Under Dog Trainer. We are trained with skills and techniques to modify canine behavior.
In summary, Use your voice for your dog
When you bring a dog into your home, you’re committing to a 10- to 15-year relationship with an amazing and wonderful creature who doesn’t have the ability to verbally speak and say “no.” It’s up to you, as your dog’s advocate, to ensure their happiness and well-being.