Stop Doing This to Your Dog

As pet owners, we build bonds with our dogs that are comparable with that of a mother and child. They have their weird quirks and we play silly games and call them funny names; it’s what being a pet parent means. Sometimes amidst all of the fun, there are some mistakes you could be making as far as communication goes with your pet. Some of these are minor, but others are a bit more serious that could cause further problems along the road in your dog’s life.

I am going to talk about a few of these things and help you stop the inappropriate behavior. I won’t leave you with a scolding though; I will also help inform you on what to do instead to keep that bond strong with your dog.

Picking Your Dog up Out of Nervousness

Please on behalf of dog professionals everywhere: STOP doing this now.

*Squints eyes at small dog owners*

I know as a worried pet mom, your first instinct is to pick up your dog when they are afraid. This unfortunately does nothing for your dog but teach them to jump on you and also, that when you are afraid, they should be afraid also which causes a waterfall effect of issues.

It is easy to be scared when a bigger or stranger dog approaches you with your small dog (or any size for that matter). Small breed dogs are territorial by nature and when you decide to scoop them up or make a big deal out of an approaching dog, they take this as their chance to lash out.

If every time you shriek, or gasp, or just freak out and pick your dog up, you are teaching your dog to display fearful behaviors when meeting other dogs. Period. They pick up on your fear and associate other dogs with that fear. This of course can lead to extreme antisocial behaviors, snapping, barking, etc. Dogs are social by nature and need to learn to be polite during greetings and how to socialize. This, however, is a complete other topic.

So what can you do instead? 

My main suggestion would be to teach your dog to sit when there are approaching dogs or people around. This will help keep them calm and (no pun intended) grounded. Make sure that you are calm (or at least seem that way) when allowing your dog to meet and greet. Do not allow greetings to go longer than three seconds; any longer and you have the potential of an issue.

This can be much more difficult if the dog is stray or off lead. Try and remain calm in this situation and keep walking; you should not be afraid to tell the other dog to move along in a firm, commanding voice. Do not swipe at or kick at the other dog as you may create a fear response and can escalate a situation. It is okay to step toward them purposefully, as dogs are very sensitive to energy. During this time, DO NOT PICK UP YOUR DOG. This movement can cause a reaction in the other dog that can make it jump up on you or lunge at your dog.

To sum up, picking up your pup out of fear or surprise is not a good idea. Meeting other dogs and people, handling strays, should all be done on the ground. This will teach your dog confidence, and that while you are their parent and will protect them, they should not be afraid either.

Staring Contests

Consider this “What’re you lookin’ at?” of the dog world; staring is usually a behavior associated with dominance. Hard stares especially can cause fights.

I know when you happen to glance over to your dog and they are staring at you, it’s hard to resist the urge to stare back. Please try your hardest! Most dogs will lick their lips and look away; this is a sign of peace. They are saying, “hey, I’m uncomfortable; you are the boss, it’s cool…please stop staring”.

However, assertive dogs and dogs with fear aggression will take this as a challenge. When meeting a dog that fits this description it is best to keep your body position turned away from the dog and avoid eye contact. This can help diffuse a snarky situation. If you don’t attempt this or even give enough space, you are at risk of being bit.

Staring should not be taken lightly with your dog; it is a very rude and risky behavior that should be respected.

Giving An Overly Excited Greeting

I promise I am not a heartless monster. I absolutely love greeting my dog at the end of the day! It is my favorite part of the day, and I get sad when she acts like she’s not happy to see me.

However, we have a very specific routine. When I come in the door, I usually do not say anything to her while she is in her pen/kennel. I walk past, put my things away, and maybe look at the mail. When am ready, I let her out, still calm and non-speaking and clip her to her lead to go outside. After she does her business, she is allowed back inside and then we have our crazy welcome home party.

Why do I do this?

A few reasons. My puppy personally has a problem with submissive peeing. If I immediately start talking to her and sharing excitement when I come in the door, she pees everywhere. Secondly, a kennel is a place of calm. It is her personal space and is supposed to be a place of peace. If I start training her to be overly enthusiastic when I arrive home, she will soon learn that she can make a bunch of noise and be ridiculous until I let her out. I don’t want that! Lastly, the calm, assertive greeting ensures that she does not jump all over me when I let her out.

Do you allow your dog to go ham sandwich when you step through the door?

If that is what you prefer, then you do you! However, if you have a young dog that you are starting to realize has become too much and you’re really hoping that he doesn’t knock over your grandmother next week at dinner…. Some changes need to be made.

When practicing greetings, remain calm but assertive. Allow your dog a certain amount of time to go potty before they come back in and greet you. When introducing to guests, inform them of your expectations of how you would like him to greet. It is hard because most strangers use very exciting tones, which causes dogs to react more. No matter how much they claim to be “dog people” do NOT allow your dog to jump on guests.

For the more fearful or submissive types, maybe suggest the person gives the dog a treat. Petting can be too much of a fear trigger for some dogs. Strangers are a challenge because they don’t believe rules apply to them sometimes as far as training goes. Do not allow your dog to have a “just this once” moment. Remain consistent! Greetings can be happy and exciting, even when they are controlled.

Not Allowing Your Dog to Growl

Many times when you hear about a dog fight or attack, people will say “He just attacked for no reason!”

Let me tell you this: no dog EVER bites for no reason.

Dogs do not want to bite; a dog that has bitten has been pushed too far. Unfortunately, people do not know how to read the signs of a dog’s stress and push them until they break. By not ever allowing your dog to growl, you are eliminating one of these warning signs.

When a dog is stressed they will usually start with very subtle, quiet warnings; closed mouth, averted eyes, stiff body. As I’ve mentioned before, wagging tails do not signify happiness. A very high, stiff wagging tail is usually a threat. As a pet owner, you should be able to read these signs quickly and intervene. Whether that means calling your dog away, or simply stepping between your dog and the other object.

If you are distracted, your dog may snap or growl. Without contact or a follow-through, this is acceptable behavior! This is your dog saying, “back off!”and a warning shot basically. If every time you scold your dog and tell them how naughty that was, you will end up with the dog that “bites for no reason”.

Become familiar with your dog’s stress limits and what kind of company he or she enjoys. This will help you recognize his stress symptoms and allow you to avoid any situation where your dog may growl or snap. Other dogs and children are obviously the biggest two factors here, but there are many more that can cause defensive reactions. While it is okay to allow your dog to warn people, you do not want to put your dog in a stressful situation on purpose. No one ever wants to have to face the day where their dog attacks someone!

Being a pet parent always comes with its challenges; learning how to speak dog and knowing some tips will always keep you and your fur baby safe.