Take Your Dog To Dog Places

Dragging Dog
This sounds so simple wish I did not even have to bring it up. But I see people taking their dogs places they shouldn't all the time. I don't just mean bringing your pet into the grocery store (in the many places where that is forbidden) or the myriad examples I saw today of people bringing dogs to a no dogs allowed walk, although those are certainly examples of things to avoid. But bringing your dog to places that he or she is not prepared for or that is really a place for humans and your dog doesn't enjoy is just as much of a problem.

The dog in the picture here was taken to an event in my town where no dogs are allowed but the event organizers do not enforce it. It was alternating hitting the end of it's leash getting behind and running to catch up. From the front in particular you could see that it wasn't having fun. The owners did have a stroller to put it in if needed, but they were convinced the dog was "doing fine."

Dog parks are a "dog place" but you may not have a dog park dog (most of us probably don't.) Your local restaurant may allow dogs on the patio, but your dog may just be too stressed by the location. You may be going for a long hike on a trail that welcomes dogs, but your dog may not be in shape for the distance. A lot of areas have a mutt strut or dog parade, but that might be too many other dogs around for your dog.

Don't just take your dogs to places that you can get away with it or even welcome dogs, take your dogs to places that they enjoy. Watch your dog to make sure that it is a good experience, and be ready to protect your dog by taking them out of the situation if necessary.

How do you know if your dog is okay with the situation? Watch their body language and especially for signs that they are tired or stressed.

Meet Max

Max is my current dog and thus is often my muse when it comes to writing and thinking about dog related things. Max is a Chihuahua mix who came up to Oregon from LA on one of the rescue transports, which is where most small dogs in my area come from. 
Chihuahua like dog with curly tail lying on an upside down lapdesk
Max on one of his beds

Max is a very nervous dog, but after a lot of positive reinforcement and classical conditioning, he is getting better and better able to handle the world. Much to his benefit, he is very resilient and if something startles him, he often literally shakes off the startle and then goes back to inspect it. Many people have told me something along the lines of "He's a Chihuahua, they are just like that," I believe all dogs deserve to be happy and comfortable and that we shouldn't let a stereotype get in the way of that. It is my job to protect Max and teach him to feel safe. In the meantime, he gives lots of fodder to think about with regard to dog body language and dog behaviour.

Max finds the camera scary
, so we are working on that. So almost every picture you will see of Max shows signs of stress or him sleeping. Any photos taken are part of his training or taken to document his well being for some reason.

All Dogs Are Not Your Dog

When using dog body language to understand your dog or the dogs around you, it is really important to remember that your dog is an individual. While dogs in general may generally use given behaviour for a given reason, your dog may have his or her own reason for doing it. For instance, sneezing is often used as a calming signal to let show that the sneezing dog is not a threat, but my dog Max also uses it to make sure that people and other animals know he's there. He is especially likely to do this with me if I am ignoring him. Part of this is because I reinforce calming signals that other dogs are likely to recognize and even put them on cue, but part of it is just his personality.

While body language is an important communication method for dogs, it isn't just black and white fill in the blank communication. Just like us, there is subtlety and different "words" have different meanings from one dog to another and one place to another.