Shuting Down

When dogs are overwhelmed by stress and other stimuli, sometimes they just shut down. They stop reacting to what is going on around them as much as possible. Given the choice, Max will go hide in his kennel. At this point, they are not learning and don't seem to be fully aware of what is going on in their surroundings.

Shutting down is often mistaken for good behaviour, especially if they have just been doing something we humans think of as bad behaviour. Shutting down often reinforces our human belief in punishment - we yell (or worse yet, physically punish) our dog and all of a sudden, they are quiet and not exhibiting the behaviour we didn't like. However, in reality, we didn't "teach them a lesson", we damaged our relationship with them and put them in a state where they can't learn.

Speaking Dog As A Second Language

In addition to observing body language to determine what dogs are thinking and feeling, we can mimic dog signals ourselves too share our thoughts and intentions with them. In her book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas uses the example of head turning as a signal we can both read and use. Dogs turn their heads to look away to signal that they mean no harm, are uncomfortable with a situation, or to avoid rudely looking straight on at another dog. (Or all of the above.)

There are many signals we can easily use that are easily recognizable to most dogs. For instance, Blocking and Laying Down. Other signals are harder to mimic or may not be as recognizable to dogs. Not all of us are good at pulling off a sneeze on demand, for example. Dogs don't always recognize our hands and feet as paw equivalents, so signals that require a paw can also be difficult to reproduce meaningfully.

What signals can you reproduce effectively?

Sneezing Take 2

A behaviour I've noticed with Max is that he sneezes to get attention. I don't mean in the sense of "Hey, play with me", but to make sure that people and bigger dogs know that his is present so they won't accidentally step on him or run him over. I suspect this is because it gives him an excuse to move and make noise for his own safety while making it clear that he is not threatening.

After noticing that he does this, I realize I've seen it in other small dogs as well.

Does your small dog sneeze like this?