Training and raising a dog, contrary to popular belief, is a monumental task. Proper care demands a lot of your time, effort, and love to avoid multiple stressors.
To advocate means to recognize a ‘scary thing’ and comfortably handle it, acknowledging the stressful situation causing your dog to feel uncomfortable, whether it be a loud marching band or other public events. It’s not as simple as people make it out to be, and if you want your dog to live a happy, satisfied, and stress-free life, it’s important to start being your dog’s advocate to avoid physical and emotional harm on day one.
Advocacy is a lifelong pursuit and requires extensive knowledge and, above all, a proactive approach to maintain your dog’s well-being. Here are five ways you can be an advocate for your dog.
1. Learn what your dog is saying
2. Avoid and manage stressful situations
3. Establish a safe home environment
4. Keep your dog safe out of the home
5. Monitor your dog’s health signs
A massive amount of work goes into understanding your pet, whether it be their body language, social cues, or the way a previous owner has conditioned them.
Knowing how to effectively speak on behalf of your pet in a variety of situations and exercising discipline, discretion, and love towards your dog goes a long way to ensuring your pet lives a fulfilled and wholesome life.
The rest of this article will dive into the various ways to advocate for your dog and how to approach an advocacy-leaning lifestyle to keep your pet safe.
What Does It Mean to Advocate for Your Dog?
Advocacy towards someone, defined simply, is demonstrating active support for their interests and seeking to speak on their behalf to defend their values, ideas, or beliefs.
In the case of a dog, you’re advocating for their happiness, with the goal being to reduce stress, evaluate your dog’s body language, and protect them from emotionally damaging environments.
It not only takes into account a dog’s physical signs, such as their body language, but advocacy also includes removing or avoiding mental stress like separation anxiety or high-energy situations.
It’s thinking ahead for your dog’s well-being and trying to condition them to form positive associations to preempt stresses like separation anxiety or crate fever. Consider group classes early in your dog’s life to help them adjust to other canines.
Advocacy also aims to ward off potential stresses for your dog, such as warning other pedestrians that your dog jumps or isn’t friendly towards many dogs. Change direction if you believe being near another dog will increase stress.
These and other steps are the best way to communicate your canine companion’s intentions and behaviors to others to protect the dog’s emotional well-being and the people around you.
Learn What Your Dog’s Body Language Is Saying
The most recognizable and prevalent way dogs communicate is by their body language and vocalizations. A dog’s body language sends signals that indicates what stresses them out.
If you’re out on a walk and fully aware that your dog gets hyper or extremely barky around other dogs, then do your best to avoid a line of sight. Understand dog body language and the dog’s message. Stress signals like barking, straining at the leash, and other canine body language cues can indicate your dog’s stress.
A dog’s physical signals tell you a lot about their well being, and learning about their body language can help you recognize how your dog is feeling.
Know How Your Dog Behaves
You need to be constantly aware when out on a walk. Your dog could be scared of something as simple as a drain (true story), and recognizing those symptoms of fear, stress, and anxiety go a long way in protecting your dog.
The same should be true whenever your dog is interacting with other people or dogs. If you see your dog exhibit negative signs towards a particular person, remove the dog from the scenario or ask them to leave.
It may seem harsh, but it’s better to avoid hostilities by being a little curt rather than letting your dog have a dangerous encounter with someone, especially at home.
This kind of body language awareness applies to environmental stresses as well. For example, if your dog is afraid of thunder, don’t just let them suffer.
Recognize the symptoms that are stressing your dog and take steps to address them. In the case of thunder, that would include providing a safe space, offering comfort, distraction techniques, or even a white-noise machine in severe cases.
Not taking your dog to a fireworks show would be a prime example of preempting and avoiding potential stresses based on past experiences. If your dog’s afraid of thunder, then you’d want to advocate for them and avoid similar stresses.
Avoid Physical and Emotional Harm
Advocacy for your dog involves being aware of everything that stresses your dog out, and dogs give frequent signals of their stress.
Based on their learned experience as a puppy or interactions with previous owners, each dog has their individual stresses or triggers that can elicit negative reactions from them.
For example, I had a dog that was frightened of men. The cause? A mailman jumped at him playfully one day.
That’s it. Something as simple as that created a fear trigger that took years for him to overcome. These kinds of triggers aren’t something to be dismissed or ignored; they need to be addressed and removed entirely if possible.
Something as simple as an umbrella can cause great distress for a dog who treats it as a threat. Take it away.
Handling Difficult Circumstances
Of course, there are some situations where your dog can’t be put in a bubble and shielded from every uncomfortable environment out there. Fear of people and fear of other dogs are two common unavoidable stress factors in a dog’s experience that they have to manage.
Schedule meetings with friends who have dogs you trust completely and slowly introduce your dog, monitoring them carefully for any signs of aggression or fear and offering treats when they’re calm.
Establishing a healthy relationship with another more stable dog will help remove some of that stress or fear towards other dogs, stop unwanted behaviors, and modify canine behavior.
Be Your Dog’s Advocate in the Home Environment
The home is your dog’s territory, and the quality of family dogs’ lives will be horribly affected if they’re not happy in the place they spend most of their time.
For their emotional well-being, maintain a calm, orderly relationship with your dog and avoid yelling or shouting at him. Emotional harm requires you as an active source of stress. Verbally speak in a calm way as the adult member of the household in an appropriate way.
Reduce Your Dog’s Stress
Your dog feeds on your emotional state, so if you’re constantly stressed or angry with your dog, they can sense it, and your frustration only serves to worsen their nervousness and unhappiness in your presence.
Avoid too many alcoholic beverages since they are the fastest way to lose your temper and nerve around your dog, worsening your relationship and creating additional sources of stress.
A dog’s advocate builds trust to increase the dog’s confidence and develops important foundation skills, especially around other humans. You don’t want your dog’s biggest source of stress to be you.
Since the home environment is subject to change over time, whether it be a move or the introduction of a new family member to the household.
Introduce your dog slowly and with positive reinforcement to your small child or new home environment to reduce the stress during the transition phase. Rushing in can adversely affect your dog, and dogs display aggression when faced with the unknown.
Establishing rules about how you will run your home is important, including protecting your dog in the home. If someone wants to bring their dog or cat over, and you know your dog isn’t good with other pets, then the answer is no, short and simple.
Well-meaning friends aren’t as important as the well-being of your dog. It’s important to steer clear of this perceived threat and introduce stressful triggers into one’s own home, which means putting your dog first in everything.
Of course, if supposeere are underlying behavioral issues with your dog such that stress develops in the home, t. In that case, dressing those issues and alleviating their unnecessary fears is the best form of advocacy in the home.
Keep Your Dog Safe Outside the Home
Of course, your dog will act differently outside the home, and that comes with a whole host of different challenges. The short and sweet version is to develop situational awareness.
Unlike walking around in the home, all that training is much harder for your dog to remember and abide by when there are so many exciting sights and smells around.
As such, it’s important to both keep your dog away from stressful situations and to communicate your dog’s state of mind to others around you.
If your dog has an issue with other dogs, then the dog park is not the place for them to learn to socialize. Socializing should be implemented slowly. They won’t be able to ‘just rough it out’ among their peers, and taking an aggressive or nervous dog to a park is a recipe for disaster.
In addition, when you’re out with your dog on the leash, communicate to others on your dog’s behalf. When a small child asks if they can pet your dog and you know your dog is a jumper, the best answer is no.
Take into account how your dog feels about other dogs, and don’t acquiesce to your dog being pet or forced into an interaction with other dogs.
Monitor Your Dog’s Entire Body
Dogs, by their nature, hide pain. It’s built into their nature. As such, you’ll often need to be something of a sleuth when it comes to your dog’s health and fitness level.
Be sure that you don’t overexercise your dogs. Some breeds (poodles, I’m looking at you!) don’t know when to call it quits and will run themselves to the brink of exhaustion.
Recognizing signs from panting to the hyper spell before a crash can help you determine how much exercise your canine companion needs.
Avoid having them do sharp turns or jumping up to reach toys. While this kind of roughhousing and playing can seem fun, it can also lead to long term health issues for your dog, with joints being a common issue for dogs in their old age.
Keep an eye out for these common signs that your dog is not well:
· Labored breathing
· Loss of appetite
· Sudden or unexpected weight loss
· Bad breath
· Excessive urination
Symptoms of Disease
Certain breed characteristics make some dogs more susceptible to different diseases. Brachycephalic (flat faced) dogs, for example, often have difficulty breathing and can develop a variety of nasal infections if not properly cared for.
Know your dog, both the predispositions of their breed and their individual signals, to keep them in good health and advocate for them when they need medical attention.
Being your dog’s advocate can be a long and difficult journey that will take a lot of time and effort. A dog is an amazing and wonderful creature, but it involves both training your dog to learn this invaluable skill, forming positive associations with common stresses and helping protect them from dangerous or harmful situations in advance. Reading your dog’s entire body, learning canine body language, and learning dog thinking patterns is the best way to help your dog endure difficult circumstances. Canine behavior is difficult to understand, especially when trying to understand a dog’s behavior and learning a dog’s opinion.
In a time when the unconditional love and support from our canine companions brings us so much happiness, we should all seek to be better advocates for our dog’s needs.