What Does Your Dog Tell You With His Eyes?

Have you ever gazed into your dog’s eyes?  How does it make you feel?

Gazing lovingly is not at all like staring at a dog.  Staring  does not convey love.  It can feel like a threat and be scary.

Making positive eye contact is one of the first skills puppies learn when they bond with humans.  And aren’t we drawn to the puppies that look right at us and appear to invite communication? It’s natural to look into your dog’s eyes and most people feel a strong attachment to their dogs in those moments.

A recent article in Science magazine has explored this connection and set out to demonstrate scientifically what most dog owners have always known.

The “bonding hormone” oxytocin has been found to be elevated in both dog and person as they calmly gaze into each other’s eyes.  Connecting with a dog can restore calm to a troubled mind, bring comfort to a grieving heart and encourage relaxation in a tension filled day.

But we who love our dogs already know that!

The partnership between dogs and humans is ancient.  It’s hard to say whether dogs know and understand us better than we know and understand them. One thing is for sure: we know far more about dogs today than we knew even as little as 20 years ago. Twenty years is a tiny span of time in our long history with dogs.  But the science is exploding with new information about how dogs think and learn.

This is knowledge that matters to everyone who lives with a dog.  It impacts how we share our lives with dogs, how we teach them and how we care for them.  More on this in future posts.

For now, stop and spend some quiet time with your dog.  Gently gaze into his eyes and see what he has to say to you today.  How does that quiet moment with your dog make you feel?


When a Nice Dog Suddenly Bites Its Owner

If a dog bites a person because the dog is guarding its food, the experience can be traumatic for everyone involved.

Sharing our everyday lives with a dearly loved dog is one of the best ways to stay balanced and sane.  Seriously.  Most of us are aware of the health benefits of being with a dog, even if it’s someone else’s.

But tonight I talked to a client and friend who called about what happened with her son’s dog.  This is a nice dog who sleeps next to her owners at night and who has been nothing but sweet and gentle all her life. Why would this dog suddenly bite my friend’s son so seriously that he had to go to the ER for treatment?

The events that led to the bite followed a familiar pattern.  The dog found some chicken bones in the trash and helped herself.  Knowing that cooked chicken bones could be dangerous for his dog, the owner approached to take away what was now the dog’s “treasure”.  Dog growled, retreated under a table.  Owner advanced and dog retreated further, determined not to give up her claim.  Owner advanced, reaching in to take the bone and the dog reacted to guard her possession.

What is the takeaway here?  First, everyone should be aware of basic bite prevention rules, so that they never approach even a nice dog while the dog is guarding an object. Any dog will bite under the right circumstances so it is unwise to make assumptions.

Next, every dog and situation is different and each one should be evaluated on its own merits.  But there are some principles that apply in almost all cases.  The dog, in this case, had come upon something of enormous value to her and was unwilling to surrender it. Failing to respect the dog’s clear warnings is a mistake.

So principle number one is:

Never try to take the object away from the dog; take the dog away from the object.

Do this by trying to lure the dog with something even more valuable than what she has.  Drop pieces of chicken, steak or whatever you have, on the floor nearby and hope she will leave the bone to go for your bait.

Principle number two is:

Keep your hands out of the line of fire! If the dog goes for the treats and leaves the bone do not attempt to pick up the bone.

You won’t believe how fast a dog’s reflexes are.  The dog still wants to keep her chicken bone and you will get bitten if you grab it! Instead, use an inanimate object like a long-handled broom to move the chicken bone out of the dog’s reach.

With safety always in mind, try to redirect the dog to another activity by tossing interesting treats or favorite toys away from the area where the chicken bone was.  Avoid petting, handling or playing with the dog until everyone, dog included, is calm and relaxed.

Punishment of any kind is not advisable because it will not prevent a repetition of the same instinctive reaction from the dog.  The dog will not connect punishment to the incident because the timing will be wrong.  And worst of all, punishment will damage the relationship you have built with your dog.

The dog in this example has zero previous history of aggression or food guarding.  So her owners need to develop a management plan that ensures that the incident will not be repeated.  Simply keeping the trash behind a closed door is a simple first step.

Always give dogs every opportunity to learn new things because it strengthens their bond with you.  At the same time give them the respect they deserve as part of a species different from ours.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated!

Welcome Dog Lovers! I’m Here to Help You!

Dogs!  They live side by side with us as companions, as helpers, as members of the family.  But, let’s face it, life with family members isn’t always a bed of roses, is it?  During my forty years of helping families either to raise puppies or to transform behaviorally challenged older dogs into well behaved pets, I’ve listened to the frustration of people who truly love their dogs but feel they have run out of options to fix a troublesome behavior.  Their dilemma is painful and they just don’t know where to turn next. If that sounds like you, I’m here to help!

I love getting calls from folks like you because I know that ninety-nine per cent of the time I can quickly turn things around.  In all the years I’ve been working with private dog training clients, I’ve seen the same problems occur over and over again.  But because people are so emotionally entangled with their pets (a good thing!) they feel their problem is unique and beyond hope!  The reason I love my work so much is that when I help the dog I help the people, and when I help the people I help the dog.  It’s a beautiful thing to see joy replace all that frustration!

But here’s my joy and my frustration:  I love teaching my clients how to understand their dogs better and how to grow a great relationship with them.  But it is also frustrating to know that there are countless other dog owning families out there that are beyond my reach. There are lots of reasons for this.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to reach everyone individually.  Some families just can’t afford to hire a private dog trainer.  Families with dog problems are everywhere in the world.  Sometimes people get bad advice from friends and give up when it fails.

My goal in writing this blog is to reach people who need help with their dogs, no matter how big or how small the problem is.  There is an abundance  of dog training information available, some really good and some pretty terrible.  I can help you tell the difference but I want to do much, much more for you than give training tips. I want to teach you about the inside of your dog’s mind so that you can create a beautiful relationship that brings joy to all of you.

I want to be your Go-To Girl for questions about your dog. I promise to respond quickly and honestly to every question and comment.  If I don’t have the answer, I’ll find it for you. I plan to recommend resources that will be useful to you.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned.  There’s much more to come.

For now, let’s be grateful for all the dogs we’ve loved and who have loved us in return.