Signs Your Dog is Uncomfortable
Most dog bites occur when a dog feels scared, anxious, or protective. It’s important to remember that dogs communicate using very subtle body cues, so as pet parents we need to be able to recognize these cues and respond accordingly to help prevent dog bites. A dog will ALWAYS give a warning before biting someone, sometimes many warnings. The people who claim the dog gave no warning usually are not trained in dog body language. At TGDS, our staff are specially trained to recognize dog body language. It’s one of the many ways we ensure pets in our care are having a great time in their play group! There is one instance where a dog might not give a warning, so here is our advice: NEVER PUNISH A DOG FOR GROWLING! Dogs that have been punished for growling or snarling may give fewer warning signals – this is what we call ‘removing the tick from the time bomb.’ We understand, your friend’s kids are at your house playing around your dog. Your dog growls at the kids, you punish the dog because you want to keep the kids safe and because it’s a little embarrassing. But what you’re doing is teaching your dog not to communicate with you that they are scared or uncomfortable. When a dog growls, you should remove them from that situation immediately. This will not reward your dog for growling, but rather teach them that you have their back. Next, try to figure out what made your dog uncomfortable and how you can rectify that situation.
Here are the most common signs for dog is uncomfortable:
- Lip licking
- Whale eye (you see the whites of the eyes)
- Lack of focus
- Piloerection (hair on end)
- Head turn or averting eyes
- Shake off (resembling what they do after a bath)
- Paw lift
- Rolling onto back
These signals can easily be confused for other actions, which is why they are easy to miss. A lot of signs a dog is uncomfortable can also be signs that they are relaxed. It’s important to read the context of the situation. If your dog is laying in their favorite sun spot in your house and yawns, usually safe to say they are not stressed. But if there are new people or kids in your house, or you are somewhere new and your dog is yawning and turning away from everyone, they are feeling uncomfortable and nervous. One very common action for an uncomfortable dog is turning their head away while licking their lips. Their ears might hang a little lower than normal. When someone tries to engage with them, they may walk away or pretend like they don’t hear or see them. Your dog isn’t being aloof, they are uncomfortable.
Take this quiz to test your body language smarts! For more resources or information on dog body language, please talk to TGDS staff.
Dogs & Kids
Kids and dogs can be a recipe for disaster. They speak VERY different languages, and young kids are unable to recognize warning signals in a dog. This does not mean they cannot get along safely, it’s just important to set up boundaries and give your dog a place to get away. No matter how loving and loyal your dog is, never assume they won’t bite your child. Every dog has their limits, so teaching your child how to properly interact with the dog is important for everyone’s safety. Here are some general rules for safe dog and kid interactions:
- Never let a child approach a dog who is eating, sleeping, or chewing on a toy. Teach children to respect the dog’s space. Even if your dog shows no signs of aggression the first couple of times your child approaches during these situations, your dog can become agitated if they are continuously bothered during these activities.
- Never let a child approach an unfamiliar dog without permission from the owners. Even then, teach your child to give a few light pets, then walk away. To dogs, kids are bizarre creatures, so if they are not used to them they can become startled by their quick movement and loud voices.
- Give your child structured dog activities, like dog chores. Having your child take part in the care of the dog helps build mutual respect between dog and child. It also teaches the dog that children bring good things, like food and treats, and are not only there to annoy them.
- Teach your child how to appropriately interact with a dog. This does not include jumping on, sitting on, or hitting the dog. Until your child is old enough to understand this, they should not be left unsupervised with the dog. Children should be taught to approach dogs calmly and slowly, and pat them politely on the side of the head.
- Give your dog a kid-free zone. Set up a room or crate somewhere away from the noise and fast-movement of children. Teach your kids to leave the dog alone when they are in this space.
Every dog and child is different. Many dogs do LOVE kids and enjoy interacting with them. Many dogs are very tolerant of their owner’s kids but maybe not so tolerant of other kids. The important thing is to supervise all dog and kid interactions, watch your dog for stress signals, give them a place to get a way, and to teach your child to respect the space of the dog.
Socializing Your Dog to Avoid Dog Bites
One important way to prevent dog bites is to help your dog feel comfortable in a variety of situations. Most dog bites occur as a result of fear or anxiety. Introducing your dog to new people, dogs, situations, and places can help relax them in new environments in the future. Dogs of all ages can be socialized, even dogs who have had bad experiences in the past. Here are some tips on how to successfully socialize your dog.
With a new puppy, it’s important to introduce them to many different experiences, but the most important thing you can do is to make all new experiences POSITIVE. One mistake many owners make with new puppies is forcing them to experience new things, especially when they are afraid. This can lead to a fearful, anxious dog because they feel they do not have control over the situation. When introducing a puppy to new places, people, or dogs, let them explore the situation at their own pace. Praise them for calm behavior and give them treats. Praising your dog when they are afraid does not reinforce the fearful behavior, but rather makes them feel supported and gives them confidence. When in new places or situations, make sure your puppy feels they can get away if they are afraid. You can also use training to make your dog feel comfortable. Dogs love clicker training, so rewarding known behaviors in a new situation can help make them feel at ease and distract them from things they are afraid of.
If you are dealing with an adult dog that is already fearful or anxious of certain situations, the important thing to do is to identify their threshold. At what point does the dog lose its cool? Now avoid that threshold. For example, if you have a leash reactive dog, at what distance from the other dog does your dog begin to react? You will want to stay away from that point until you can keep your dog calm.
To make the situation more welcoming to them, you will want to use the yummiest treats you can find and positive training. Make that situation very rewarding to the dog as you work towards that threshold. Don’t rush it! This will take time, as the reaction to the situation is a deeply ingrained behavior. The goal is to keep your dog’s attention on you with positive training. Ask them for simple behaviors they know well. Keep the energy calm and relaxed. Work towards the threshold only as long as your dog can stay focused on you. If you have friends or family who are willing to help you with the situation, you could ask them to help. For example, if your dog is leash reactive, have a friend with a well-mannered dog walk towards you slowly as you work on training. Have them stop at the proper distance away while you work with your dog. Practice this over and over. If your dog ever begins losing focus as you get closer to the trigger, walk away and get their attention back on you. Never yell, hit, or yank at your dog if they are reacting, that will only make it worse. Simply ignore the behavior, walk away and get their attention back on you with a simple behavior. Never be afraid to contact a trained professional to help!
Don’t forget you can participate in our Run for the Roses and support TJO at the same time. Between now and drop off on Friday morning…please fill out your bracket(s).
Each one completed is a $1 donation to TJO – Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center.
The brackets are available here for download and printing:
Plus if you want to learn a little more about the dogs running click here.
Please print out a copy and bring to a staff member.