I don’t think that anyone who reads my posts regularly would suggest that dogs are not our best friends. But sometimes, I think we “push” the friendship a bit, expecting more of our dogs than they should reasonably have to give. In other words, we do things that drive them nuts – things that dogs would really prefer that we didn’t do, but that they tolerate because they love us.
Here are 11 of those things.
1. Talking Too Much
Let’s face it, we humans talk a lot. I know that there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting down with other dog-lovers and just yakking a lung up. And I also yatter away at Janice and Leroy, just basically talking about stuff. I don’t think they mind, because I think they like the sound of my voice.
However, if I use words to try to get my dogs to do what I want them to do, that’s unfair – we don’t have a spoken language in common. Sure, my dogs know some words, like “walk,” “off,” “treat” and so on, and some dogs can even learn thousands of words – in fact, I’m working on a post called Meet the Dog of a Thousand Words, and Learn How to Use Words to Teach Your Dog to Do Amazing Things! in which you’ll meet a dog that has an incredible mastery over language. You’ll see it here probably within the next couple of weeks.
Most dogs, though, are just going to look at you blankly if you try to string more than a few words together. They do better with body language, and it has to be good body language. Just as an example, if you tell your dog to stay, but you hold your hand out, your dog is going to think “My human wants me to come!” You’re sending mixed signals, and then you’re probably speaking when the dog reacts in a way that you don’t want, and you end up with a very confused puppy.
Use body language, and if you do feel the need to speak, make sure that the spoken words are compatible with what your body language is saying.
Most dogs don’t like to be hugged. It makes them feel confined. They’ll let you hug them, because even though they don’t much like hugs, they love you. Of course, there are always exceptions – my friend Neila has a Rottweiler named Dallas who is firmly convinced that he’s a lap dog. He puts his front paws in Neila’s lap and then raises them up to her shoulders and waits for her to hold him.
Neila smiles, and says “Isn’t it awful how dogs hate to be hugged?”
If your dog is a “huggy” sort, that’s great. But most aren’t. So, if you suspect that your dog is not totally comfortable with hugs, don’t inflict hugs on him.
The “no hug” thing is particularly important when children are involved. A lot of the time, when bites happen, it’s because the child has attempted to hug the dog.
Keep in mind, too, that while your dog might enjoy being hugged by you, or by someone else in your family, he might not react favorably to a hug from someone he doesn’t now all that well.
So, I’m not saying “Never hug.” I’m just saying, “Proceed with caution.” Watch the body language, and remember that when you hug, you’re putting yourself up close and personal with a pretty solid set of teeth.
3. Head Petting
Have you ever had someone try to pet your head? How did you react? I’m thinking it was probably something along the lines of “Get the hell away from me!”
None of us really want to have a stranger’s hands on our head. It’s annoying. Also, a hand coming toward your face can look very much like aggression, and your reaction is most likely going to be to pull back and turn your head away.
A dog won’t stop there – he’ll probably bite if it’s a stranger doing this, and might even bite or at least nip if it’s a family member. It’ the same thing as it is with humans – you don’t want anyone in your “personal space,” and neither does a dog.
It’s far better to offer a rub under the chin, or a good scratch where the tail meats the back.
4. Making Eye Contact
Eye contact is a powerful thing. You’ve probably, from time to time, encountered someone who holds it for just a bit too long, and it makes you feel very uncomfortable. You wonder what their intentions are. Then, you probably drop your eyes, and wait for another cue that signals that person’s intentions.
Dogs are pretty much the same when it comes to eye contact – they don’t like it to be prolonged. If you stare too long at a dog, he’ll probably think that you’re trying to establish dominance. If the dog is naturally submissive, you don’t have a problem – he’ll look away. If the dog is dominant by nature, though, maintaining eye contact could have a bad outcome.
The best way to approach a dog that you don’t know is to do it with your body not “square on” and with your eyes a bit averted. Speak gently to reinforce the body language, so that the dog knows you don’t intend him any harm. He might still decide that he’d rather not interact with you, but if you do it this way, you won’t have sent an aggressive message that could be reacted to in kind.
5. Not Setting Rules
Dogs are like kids, in that even though they might think they don’t want rules, they really do.
Have you ever said to a teen daughter, “You’re not going out of the house dressed like that”? If you have, then you know what I’m talking about. Your daughter might have said “Aw, Mom!” or “But Dad, all my friends dress like this!”
You come back with a firm “No,” and your daughter gripes for a bit, but you have to know that she’s heading out thinking “Mom loves me,” or “Dad just doesn’t want me to look like a ho-bag skank.” She might complain about the rules, but deep down inside, she’s glad they’re in place.
Dogs are the same. They look to you to be the leader. In the same way that kids do well when they have a set of rules to adhere to, so do dogs. When you set rules, your dog’s life is predictable and not confusing, and that’s a good thing.
When you’re setting rules, though, keep in mind that dogs don’t usually understand exceptions. They don’t know, for instance, that you’re fine with having them jump on you when you’re wearing your “at home” clothes, but you don’t want to be jumped on when you’re on your way to work and wearing a business suit. They also don’t know that it’s fine to get on the sofa when they’re nice and clean, but not after they’ve been rolling n dirt. So be consistent!
6. Forcing Your Dog to Be Friends with People (or Other Dogs) That They Don’t Like
Janice and Leroy like pretty much everyone, and I’ve never had cause to deal with interactions with people or other dogs that they don’t like. If I did have such cause, though, I wouldn’t force it.
I remember when I was 8 years old, and I had a birthday party. My mother had me make out a guest list, and when I handed it to her, she said, “Where’s Jeannie?”
I said, “I don’t like Jeannie, and I don’t want her at my party,”
My mother said, “But she invited you to her birthday party, so you have to invite her to yours.”
That was true, but I had good reasons not to like Jeannie. She bullied me unmercifully at school, and we just flat out hated each other. I didn’t even go to her party – I refused, because I hated her. But simply by virtue of the invitation, I had to have Jeannie at my party.
So, on “THE DAY,” Jeannie arrived with a beautifully wrapped gift. I shoved it back at her. My mother gave me hell for being rude, and I started to cry, and spent the entire day of my birthday party in my room, crying and refusing to come out.
Mom shouldn’t have pushed it.
Neither should you. If your dog doesn’t like someone, what’s to be gained by forcing social interaction? If your dog wants nothing to do with a human, that human will get over it. If your dog dislikes another dog, you’re not going to gain anything by forcing them to socialize – you’re just going to be setting yourself up for a dog fight.
Dogs are like people – they’ll like some, tolerate others, and have a complete antipathy toward a few. Think of it this way – in five years, will it matter? If the answer is “No,” then let your dog make the decision to socialize or not. If he doesn’t want to be around certain people, or certain dogs, there’s really no reason why you should force it.
7. Restricting Unnecessarily
Of course, it’s important to have a dog that is willing to walk cooperatively on lead, but is it really the end of the world if your dog wants to wander a bit, smell things, and investigate his surroundings?
I’m thinking it’s not. A dog should be able to enjoy his world. A walk doesn’t have to be just about exercise or going potty – it can be about enjoying what’s going on. Humans are visual creatures – we like to look at a sunset, or appreciate pretty flowers, or even just look up at the clouds and imagine that we see pictures there. Dogs rely mainly on smell, though, so let your dog explore his surroundings with his nose.
8. A Tight Leash
Again, you want your dog to walk cooperatively with you. But that doesn’t have to mean keeping him on a tight leash all the time. Train your dog to walk at heel, but every so often, loosen up the leash and let him explore. A dog that’s constantly on a tight leash isn’t going to be happy, and is going to be more likely to pull if he sees something that looks interesting. Choose a few times during the walk when the dog can wander a bit.
9. Transferring Your Tension
Your dog knows how you feel. So, if you’re wound up and stressed, your dog is going to know, and his emotions are likely going to mirror yours. If your dog seems to be stressed, take a look at yourself. How are you feeling? Are you passing tension onto your dog? Chill out – have a cup of herbal tea, meditate, or do whatever else it takes to calm you down.
10. Being Boring
You’ve probably hung out with boring people before, and you’ve probably thought “Get me out of here!” Nothing new going on, nothing of any interest, just the same old same old!
Your dog feels the same way, so if you’re stuck in a rut, switch it up. Go someplace new – a different dog park, maybe. Take a different route around the neighborhood when you go “walkies.” Try throwing a Frisbee instead of a ball. You get the idea.
Keep in mind too, that a bored dog is usually a troublesome dog. If your dog is eating your shoes, or destroying your couch, or otherwise being destructive, chances are that he’s bored. Think of some fun activities that you can do to stave off the boredom.
Sure, you think it’s funny as all hell to bark at your dog! It’s just hilarious to hold his favorite toy above his head and make him bark and cry and carry on before you give it to him. Even funnier to offer a treat and then pull it away.
Well, you know what? If you get bitten doing this stuff, you deserve it.
So, there you have 11 things that dogs would rather you didn’t do. I’d rather you didn’t do them too, because they’re not sensible, and not kind. Sometimes, people do these things because they don’t know any better. Other times, they’re just idiots.
The Final Word
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do something that would upset their dog. If you see yourself here, please stop the behavior. Your dog loves and respects you, and deserves the same treatment in return.