Recognizing when your dog is feeling tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, or overstimulated can make all the difference when it comes to dog training and just raising a dog that is capable of making good choices, especially in social settings.
Why is it so important to be aware of how our dogs are feeling? The reality is that dogs don't use words to let us know how they feel but they do use their body language and without fault. Being able to understand how and when your dog is feeling one way or another will make it so you will have an amazing relationship, that will be able to thrive in different social settings, where elements that are out of your control will present themselves to you. Understanding when it's time for your dog to take a break, to walk away, to go and relax with a kong, a puzzle, or even just go for a walk can make the difference between having a dog that learns to do that on his own, vs one that feels the need to make the world go away instead. All dogs and puppies have different body language tools to communicate how they feel. Their primary means of communication is body language, and for the most part, it's non-verbal. This means that before your dog has made the decision to bark, whine or cry at someone, something, or at a dog (which in the case of behaviour modification/reactivity it means your dog wants that trigger to go away) he has already gone through his 'protocol' body language responses, and as they have not yielded the wanted results, the need to proceed and escalate with verbal cues is what then follows. This signifies that if we learn to properly (and hopefully quickly) read and react to the non-verbal cues and provide our dogs with guidance, in the form of taking space, walking away, and redirecting them onto something else/better/more positive, we can completely prevent a dog's need to escalate to verbal signs and more, but even more importantly, we are as a result teaching a dog that remaining quiet and more at ease around you provides them with the coping and thriving mechanisms they need and long in order to be able to problem solve in social/human-made settings. It's these same dogs that are provided with proper guidance from us and at the right time, that can then decide to take longer, and feel more comfortable, before feeling the need to react. This then allows them to instead use that extra time to think and realize that perhaps there was no need to feel worried or concerned in the first place. What are some of the signs that we should look out for in our dogs, to know if they're feeling not so happy, or at the very least their normal selves? - Dilated pupils are a common indicator that a dog may be feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and not 100% comfortable with a situation. - Pacing around, back and forth, pacing towards you and away can let you know that your dog isn't feeling too sure and capable of feeling more at ease in that particular environment. - Rapid, sudden panting. Particularly if you're seeing this even though your dog hasn't done much physical activity. It's a way that dogs try to ooze/expel their stress away and feel differently. - Their nose isn't engaging with other dogs, people, or the environment. If your dog isn't using his nose regularly enough in a particular environment and is instead relying more on his ears and eyes, it can be an indicator that they're not feeling comfortable enough to rely mostly on the information they gather from smelling (despite it being much more reliable than that collected through their other senses). - Humping, jumping, and moving very fast and suddenly are also indicators that your dog is trying to cope with the environment they're in, in ways that aren't very conducive to more calm and healthier decision-making. All of these non-verbal indicators and more let us know that our dog may be feeling tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, or overstimulated. And what you want to do more than anything is to give them a break from that space, as soon as you feel a bit unsure of it. You can always come back, but as far as your dog knows, there is absolutely no obligation to return to an environment that both you and your dog feel a little bit unsure of. The most important thing is that you and your dog feel as though you will be successful no matter the terrain, but if you're trying to navigate a setup that is out of your control and challenging for you both, your best bet is to walk away and come back to a setting or at a time, that you find is a bit easier to cope and thrive with, before trying more!