Does your dog show reactions to new and novel situations?

by Helen Kay // January 2018

Dogs are great communicators, aren’t they!?

I have to admit that right now I am laid in a hot bath with extra bubbles trying to forget how cold it is outside! 

One of my dogs has just wandered in and peered over the edge of the bath. They don’t usually come upstairs but I must not have closed the baby gate at the bottom of the stairs properly… I like my dogs to be with me however also like them to show independence too and be happy to be separated from me and left alone for a short while…. Hence the baby gate!

I’m laid back in the bath and can hear the bubbles popping and crackling.. how must that sound to a dog when their hearing Is so much acute than ours!?

My dog has just backed away suddenly and un-expectantly from the bath, having I think, see the volume of bubbles…. Actually, I don’t think she’s ever seen bubbles in a bath before! A brand new experience for her to encounter and investigate!

She has become quite excitable, barked a couple of times and steps into the bathroom, then quickly changes her mind and darts back out onto the landing...

How is she feeling?

What is she trying to communicate with me?

Well… the excitement and barking, although she looks like she’s having fun, is I would suggest because she’s unsure. There’s certainly some conflict going on (I’m brave, no I’m not, I’m brave, no I’m not!!)

I have gently and very calmly reassured her with my voice and I’m waiting and leaving her to see if she can pluck up the courage to approach in her own time. Within a few minutes, she has approached but she looks apprehensive… a definite sign she is lacking confidence… As I know she is unsure I continue to gently reassure her.

I’m not going to leap out of the bath, cover her in cuddles (and probably bubbles which I’ve identified she is unsure of!!) but yes I am there for her… offering support.

Well… would you look at that… within seconds she is back to her usual self and has realized the bubbles are nothing to worry about!

Dogs do have amazing ability to communicate using some obvious and some more subtle changes in their body language. As fabulous dog owners, it is our job to learn all about this so we have a mutual understanding! When we understand the body language we can then use an appropriate approach to work with our dogs and train them!

I’ve got out of the bath and unintentionally put some bubbles on the floor and I’m now watching her run in, run out, run in, run out trying to figure out what this strange white fluffy cloud is in front of her!

My intention is to leave her to investigate. I’m going to let her do it in her own time, of her own accord. She CAN overcome her worries... She’s just proved that with the bubbles in the bath… she just needs time!

Now we have bubbles on the floor we have a different context… and therefore a new reaction… She just needs some time to work it out!!

Moral of the story?

It’s better to help your dog conquer their fears at a pace your dog dictates and can cope with... This should be very gradual, and very slow, and you should only move to the next level when your dog is completely comfortable. If you do think your dog looks anxious they will probably just remove themselves from the situation, but if not gently encourage them away.  Give them space and let them make the choices to investigate… 

So how can Dog School help?

By helping you become a dog body language expert and know what your dog is trying to communicate with you! We cover this in our training classes and the training environment is great for confidence building in adult dogs and puppies!

Why not check out our upcoming courses and keep an eye out for our dog school presentations.

Our next one is FREE and is on Saturday the 6th January 2018 at 11.30am at Darlington. It is for anyone who has just got a puppy, is thinking about getting one or any dog lover who just wants to learn more!

Give us a ring on 01325 331430 or 01325 331431 for more details!