Just like people dogs vary in their threshold of what kind of touch they consider appropriate. A dog’s reaction to being touched can range from joy and relaxation to growling and biting and everything else in between. Teaching your dog to be comfortable with touch will make trips to the vets, bathing time and other necessary activities less stressful. Moreover, a dog that has serious body guarding issues can be a threat to your safety. There are a couple of things that you can do to teach your dog to accept and enjoy being touched.
Last weekend Milo felt so bad that we had to take him to our local emergency hospital. He ended up having abdominal surgery, but he is on the road for recovery now. Hopefully, he will be discharged from the hospital today. I decided to write a post on how dogs let us know about the way they feel.
Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us, when they feel unwell or what exactly is bothering them. Or can they? If you know your dog well, you should be able to spot signs of illness. As our dogs learn to understand us, we learn to understand their body language and habits. I am sure that most owners can communicate with their dogs in much the same way as they communicate with people. Remember Gromit and his eyebrows? Gromit is a beagle and I can assure you that Milo talks using his eyebrows in exactly the same way as Gromit. Other dogs may use their tails or ears more than eyebrows. Does your dog talk to you?
So when the dog becomes sick or just doesn’t feel well, he will tell you. You just have to listen… or watch. Several typical signs of illness or pain exist. I am not talking about obvious medical signs, such as vomiting, fever or blood in stool. I will describe some behaviours that may indicate that your dog is not feeling well and that you should call you veterinarian.
You may have heard that you are not supposed to look a dog directly in the eyes as it can be dangerous and provokes aggression. Indeed, dogs tend to avoid direct eye contact, when signaling peaceful intention. A dog staring in the eyes of another dog is most likely trying to challenge it. So, it is true: direct eye contact can be a sign of not so friendly mood. However, I am sure that your dog(s) often look you in the eyes for the same purpose people do: questioning, demanding attention or just keeping in contact. I think they learn it from us and are not as uncomfortable with eye contact as some sources lead you to believe.
So, why is eye contact important? First, it is the primary way for us, humans, to know that we have the dog’s attention. Some dog’s are good listeners, but Milo appears to only be able to use one sense at a time, and hearing is not his favourite. Second, it allows your dog to improve its concentration abilities. Finally, teaching the dog to make eye contact, when it sees a distraction (i.e., other dogs) or when in doubt, ensures that you will have your dog’s attention at critical moments. Today I will share one of the exercises that teach your dog to make eye contact.
Exercise: “Look at me”
This exercise will teach your dog to focus on you instead of a distraction. If your dog is food motivated, use treats. If a ball is more tempting, then use a ball or a toy as a distraction.
1. Have a clicker in one hand and a few treats (or a ball) in another.
2. Show the treats to the dog. You can let it smell it or move your hand in front of the dog’s nose, teasing.
3. Move your hand slightly away from the dog, so the dog can’t reach it, but can still see and smell the treats.
4. Look at the dog and wait until it looks at you. Click and treat. Initially, you can reward the dog for just looking away from the distraction. The goal is to gradually bring the dog to make eye contact with you, when the distraction is present.
5. Once your dog starts making eye contact consistently, you can increase difficulty by changing hands, moving the distraction, bringing treats closer to the dog etc.
This exercise serves as a foundation for work with certain behavioral problems in dogs. For example, the same idea can be applied to treating reactive dogs (dogs who overreact to certain stimuli). In that case, you can teach your dog to look at you, when it sees other dogs, people or other things to which the dog may overreact.
One of the common problems in dog trainings is over-excitement. A dog gets too excited by treats or by desire to please and training becomes impossible. For instance, Milo can get so excited by treats, that he would start randomly offering all his tricks. Milo is extremely food motivated, and an opportunity to earn treats is a big deal for him. Some dogs can get too excited during training, because they are too eager to please their owners. Although I am not a fan of submissive and dominant dogs theory, I admit that some dogs are more submissive than others. Submissiveness is demonstrated by body language (lying down, ears down, hiding tail, rolling over etc.) and behaviour (urinating, licking, whining). I will not get into details about treating submissiveness now: it is a complicated and sensitive issue. If you recognise your dog in this description, please, consult a dog trainer in person.
Regardless of the underlying cause of over-excitement, there is one thing you can do: do not reward it. Attention is a reward, hence it reinforces behaviour. If your dog becomes too excited, do the following: