Tag Archives: canine behavior

Tail

In some ways humans are better off than canines. They can always walk off leash, for instance. But if one takes a holistic point of view, canines have the most benefits. We are the ones with the happy simple lives: we guard, play and eat when we want and sleep the rest of the time. Much better than humans, who seem to be in a hurry all the time doing… yes, what exactly? I don’t know. Working, M tells me. Working for what, when they already have a house and plenty of food?

When it comes to physical differences canines are much better off than humans, too. Humans seem to navigate on one sense only: eyesight. Canines have sharp eyes, but also extraordinary hearing and smelling capabilities. Not to mention our seventh sense, which enables us to feel trouble that is coming to us (like a bad mannered dog in the dog park). We have wonderful warm fur (no clothes needed), pretty ears and, best of all: a tail. Humans do not have a tail. And that is very sad for them. With a tail, you see, one can do so many things.

Like using it as a counterweight when something asks for thorough nose-investigation.

It is also a clear tool for communication, as you can see: my friend near the water signals me she is ready for playing and I answer her with my tail in the same position. The game is on, friend!

The tail high up means: I am stronger than you are, try me! It is also a signal of extreme alertness – I put my tail up high when I smell a burglar, or a cat. By the way: in the above picture my friends were not really fighting, they were just testing one another’s strength. The dog in the back thought it pretty silly, as you can see.

A tail is a real asset. It is sad humans do not have one.

 

The art of fetching ball

Most dogs love to fetch balls. I have been thinking about this – I like it too, I like it a lot, but why? Sometimes I muse about things like this, when I am snoozing in my favorite chair.

When we dogs fetch balls, we experience a lot of different emotions and feelings. First there is anticipation. The human takes the ball into its hand and we focus on that: we see the ball, we know what is coming, we feel our muscles straining, ready for action. It is the sheer joy of knowing a human will throw a ball for us.

2014-09-21 10.26.20

Then the moment is there: the ball leaves the hand of the human and flies through the air. This is when we start running, but not at full speed immediately. At least, that is how I do it. I run and look at the ball at the same time. I make sure I follow the orbit of the ball, adjusting my speed to the speed of the ball. While running, I calculate where it will come down. I enjoy the wind on my coat and in my ears, I feel the ground under my feet, I spread my toes for optimal balance and power. I experience all these sensations at the same time, which makes it thrilling.

Throw ball

When I have figured out where the ball will land, I accelerate. I love to use all the strong muscles in my body. I race towards the spot where the ball comes down, because I want to catch it before it hits the ground. I am most peculiar about this: the best way to do ball-fetching is catching it in the air. I want to do the same with pigeons, but so far they are flying too high – pity.
I stretch my long legs and jump.

IMG_20151025_120400247-01

Then, when I have catched the ball, another part of the play begins. My muscles relax a little, because full speed is not required anymore. I feel the gritty texture of the ball in my mouth – mostly we play this game on the beach, so there is always some sand involved. I turn around and face my human and I start running back to her, fast but not too fast. This is the moment when I enjoy the feeling of fulfillment: I have got the ball, I catched it flying, it is totally mine. Sometimes I savour this moment a bit longer, by digging a hole and burying the ball in it.

Blog Bubbles 14

Then I take it out and bring it back to my human. And we start all over again (that is why I bring it back)!
All this: the anticipation, the speed, the part where we need to calculate which way the ball is going, the joy of catching it… all this is why we love to fetch balls.

Dog talk

In my previous post I mentioned that I had a serious conversation with my friend, Jip. This is what it looked like:

Talking it through

Some of my friends who weren’t there when this happened ask me what this was all about. What were we saying? Well, it was something like this:

“You are a mean bitch!”
You are a mean bitch!”
“Yes I am!”
“Me too!”
“You are right, you are a mean bitch!”
“Ha! We both are mean bitches!”
“Hell yeah.”
“We are two mean bitches!”
“Yeah!”
“Okay. That’s settled, then.”
“Yes it is.”
“Now what?”
“Let’s have some fun!”

And that is what we had, with the rest of our pack:

Exploring

 

 

Moves

We dogs are very versatile in our movements. We can run extremely fast, dig huge holes and we can jump high in the air, as my friend Jojo demonstrates in this picture:

Jojo jumping

This pic is a lucky shot by Nicoline, my personal trainer. She also made this pic, it shows how well we can stand on our hind legs. Another move we excel in:

My friends

Yes we can do a lot of things, but some dogs overdo it. I mean one particular movement: bouncing.  All puppies bounce, that is normal. It is how we explore our strength and learn what our bodies are capable of. But when a dog has grown-up and he still bounces, that is not okay. At least, we dogs think so. Look at what happens when we play: when we are bounced upon, we snarl. And rightly so, because bouncing is very rude.

Oddly though, a lot of humans seem to accept that they are bounced upon. When their dogs are playing they tell each other: be careful, brace yourself for the impact! And they bend their legs, so they won’t fall when they are hit by their dog. That is a silly thing to do! Yes it is true that some dogs keep on bouncing when they are grown-up and some breeds even do it a lot, like boxers and bulls. But that doesn’t mean humans should accept being bounced upon! I mean: I don’t like begin run over by a 60 kilos bullmastiff. I don’t think humans like that either. They don’t need to, you know. My personal trainer for instance never gets bounced upon, because she is very clear she won’t accept it. Like the famous dog whisperer himself. I gather he doesn’t get bounced upon very often, too.

It is all about respect, really. We dogs do not accept it when another dog bumps into us and I think humans should act the same.

How to talk to dogs

Humans talk a lot. To each other and to us, dogs. But maybe you noticed that we dogs don’t talk to each other, at least not in the way humans do, with words and sentences. So the short version of the answer to the question ‘how to talk to dogs?’ is: you don’t.

We don’t actually mind when humans talk to us. We are polite enough to listen to all this blabla, no worries about that. M for instance talks a lot, to other humans and to me as well. I’m okay with that, it is the way she is and I respect that. But with humans and canines in general the trouble begins when humans seem to think that talking to us is the same thing as communicating with us. That is a big misunderstanding.

Let me give you an example. I was at the beach and a big labrador was happily rolling in a dead fish. His human did not like that and called him. When he finally came, she said to him (in a high pitched voice): “You naughty dog, I told you not to get yourself dirty. I thought we had agreed on that, don’t you remember?” I can tell you we all laughed very loud at this stupid human and the lab laughed with us. This human interacted with her dog as if it was a child and that is just not how it works. I don’t expect this works with human children either, but that’s another story.

Boss

Conclusion: talking to us is not the same as communicating with us. If you want to communicate with us, please take a look at how we dogs do it. We do not use words, we use energy. We pick up each others energy and know what the other needs. Like respect.

Social 2

Energy is our most important tool for communicating. Besides that we have all kind of subtle ways to tell each other what we want.

IMG-20150115-WA0001

And less subtle ways, too:

Social 3

But the most important tool is energy. Not only between dogs, but also in the human-canine interaction. We don’t need words, we feel what humans feel.  For instance: when a human is stressed, we sense it. Balanced dogs will try to calm this human, stressed dogs will get more stressed.

All this means two things concerning communication:

  1. You can’t fool us with words. We tune in into your energy, so we feel what you mean, despite the words you choose. You cannot lie to a dog.
  2. When you really want us to get your message, make sure your energy is in sync with what you tell us. When you tell us to be calm but you are stressed yourself, it won’t work.

So what about the lab who was rolling in the dead fish? Well, he and his human have an issue that is a bit bigger than just communicating in the right way, because the lab obviously has no respect for his human. I can’t blame him, I would feel the same towards a human who talks to me like I am a bad behaving child. There is something wrong in their relationship and they should work on that, by applying my magic formula of fun, companionship & love.

For the rest of the humans who do have a good relationship with their dog: if you want to communicate with us, be fair to your own feelings and energy and be fair to us. Be genuine, be balanced and only tell us to do things you find really important. Not out of some whim, because we will feel you are dishonest and we will not oblige. By the way: rolling in a dead fish is very high on our bucket list. So please do us a favor and let us enjoy that moment. You can always (oh I hate to say this) give us a bath afterwards.

The power of surprise

In my last post I wrote about how to make your dog come to you. I suggested to use a toy or a yummy treat to make it worth while for your dog to come to you. Some of my human readers have asked me what to do if this doesn’t work. They told me their dog won’t come to them, although they have a treat or a toy.

Okay. I think these humans have a problem and I guess their relation with their dog is not as good as they think it is. They should work on that. Or maybe they made a common mistake, by calling their dog and putting her on the leash every time she came. We are not stupid, you know. When you call us and put us on the leash and take us home every time we come to you, we won’t come easily again. How do you think we feel, when we are having fun but we stop our play to come to you and then every time we do this, we have to go home? Here’s the clue: don’t do this. Call us once in a while, give us a treat or play with us, and let go again. Then your dog will learn it is a good thing to come to you. And she won’t mind that after some nice playing time she is taken home again.

There are some other tricks than toys or treats to make your dog come to you. The key word is: surprise. Like I wrote in my previous post: make it fun for your dog to come to you! I know a human with a very independent dog. She has to make an effort for her dog to come to her and she found an excellent way to do this. When she wants her dog’s attention, she starts jumping up and down, waving her arms and singing ‘whooieooieoowiieee!’. That is funny. It makes all the dogs in the dog park go to her! When we are with her, she tells us to sit and we all get a yummy treat. Then she sends us off again, to resume our play. Now that is a good way of making your dog come to you and build a strong relationship. When she calls her dog to go home, in the end, he willingly obliges because it is fun to be with his human.

This is just one trick to get your dog’s attention. One of the favorite tricks of my personal trainer is this: she throws some treats into the grass (and I pretend not to see it), then calls me and asks me to search for them. It always works. Another trick is bending down, pretend like you are looking for something on the ground, maybe even dig with your fingers. Your dog will certainly come to help you in your search. Some time ago we were walking leisurely along the canal near our house, when I turned and saw M sitting on the grass! She never does this, so I immediately ran to her to check it out. She told me she fell down, but she won’t fool me: it was another trick to get my attention!

Nose

All these tricks have one thing in common: it is a surprise for us and it is fun. We love surprises, so this will always work. But please do not make the mistake of putting us on the leash every time when we come to you. If you do, you will not fool us again and it will become harder and harder for you to make us come to you.

 

Hysterical humans

Yesterday I was running next to M on her bike. I really like doing that and when I do, I am very focussed. We passed a human with her dog, a young and friendly dog who wanted to play with me. She was off leash and she came running towards me. But when I run next to the bike, I do not want to play because I focus on the running. So I ignored the young dog and she understood I did not want to play. She did not return to her human, however, but ran on and crossed the road. It is a busy road. Gladly for her the car that was approaching saw her and stopped, but her human got totally hysterical and started running after the dog, screaming she had to come to her. Which her dog, obviously, did not.

I thought it kind of funny. But since this is a dogtorial, I will explain to my human readers what went wrong in this case. So they can learn from it and avoid making the same mistake. This was a dangerous situation, the dog could have been hit by the car. I am very capable of walking home alone, because I am an intelligent and sensible dog. I watch out for cars and other hazards. But most dogs don’t.

2014-08-15 11.08.33

So what to do when your dog runs away from you? The first thing to remember is: never ever run after your dog. We are much faster, so we will always outrun you. Besides, when you run after your dog, she will get scared or consider it a challenge. Either way she will run even faster. What to do, then? Make your dog come to you. Seduce her with a yummy treat or a favorite toy. Make it fun for her to come to you, more fun than running away and checking other fun stuff. In the end, when you have established a good relationship with your dog, she will come to you anyway because she learned that being with you is the best thing in the world. You will not need treats and toys anymore. But in this particular case the dog was still very young and the relationship with her human was not strong yet.

The second thing I would like to tell you about this situation is what happened when the human finally got her dog. She ran towards the dog, screaming, drove her into a corner and than fell onto her. I don’t know how to describe it otherwise: she just jumped on the dog, both arms around the poor thing. It must have terrified the little dog. Then the human started to talk to the dog, in a way a lot of silly humans talk to us. She said: “What did you just do, you stupid sweetheart, I told you not to run away!” This is very odd. One: you don’t argue with us like you argue with other humans, it is useless. Of course you told us lots of things, but that doesn’t mean we comply! We forget most of all this blabla anyway. Two: the little dog did not think ‘oh my human told me not to run away but I feel like doing it so I will’. No, she probably did not think at all, but just felt like running and did it. We are dogs, remember? We don’t think that much – which is great, by the way. Humans should try it.

What should the human have done in this case? Well, her dog was behaving badly by not coming to her. But the dog could really not help it, she just acted on her impulses and she is still too young to know how to behave properly. So when the human finally got to the dog and the dog waited for her (she did, you know. She could have jumped and run away, but she didn’t), she should have given her a yummy treat and put the dog on the leash. In a calm and composed manner. No screaming, no jumping on the dog, no harsh words. Just put her on the leash and continue the walk. Like nothing happened.

There is one other very obvious thing to mention about this case. The young dog should not have been off leash in the first place. It was a busy and dangerous surrounding, by the road and all that. The dog was not yet capable of handling situations like this and her human placed her in a dangerous situation by letting her walk off leash. That was irresponsible of the human. I am not in favor of walking on a leash, don’t get me wrong. I like freedom. But in some situations it is safer to walk on the leash. It is not that bad, really. By walking on the leash you make sure your human is following you and you do not have to wait for her all the time. I consider that a great benefit of leashes.

Body language (3)

I feel like writing another dogtorial. So this is body language part 3. In the first two parts I described what the position of our ears tell about our state of mind. This time I will focus on the tail. We canines have all kinds of tails: short, long, furry, fluffy or slick like a whip. I personally prefer my own tail, which is in between furry and sleek. Just right!

Blog Bubbles 4

The way we hold our tail tells a lot about our mood. There are three basic positions:

1. Alert and tense: our tail is high into the air. It can move (which means we are excited) or be very still (which means we are focussed). Some humans call this dominant, but I already wrote that dominance is a misconception. It is not dominant.

Dogs who feel very sure of themselves usually hold their tail high up in the air. When two dogs of this kind meet, their tails are going even higher. There is a reason for this: when we hold our tails high, we smell stronger. From behind. And a dog that is smelling strongly tells the world HERE I AM SHOW SOME RESPECT MAN. Something like that.

Tail high

When two dogs meet with their tails high up in the air, they usually end up measuring forces. Which is fine. It is not fighting, that is something entirely different.

2. Fear: dogs who are unsure or scared hold their tail tightly between their legs, pushing it towards their belly. This is about scent, too: when you do this, you limit the way you smell from behind. That is exactly what you want when you are scared. A strong smell will tell everybody that you are there. It makes you look bold. When you want to be shy, you hide your smell. It may seem simple, but for us dogs it works perfectly.

3. Relaxed. This looks like:

Header 4

There are a lot of positions in between these three. I for instance have a position in between relaxed and alert:

Little fish!

There are dogs that have very odd tails. Some have no tail at all, only a short stub. Something horrible must have happened to them to have a tail like that! Anyway, even then you can read their mood. They press the stub downwards when they feel scared and stick it high up in the air when they are alert.

Some dogs are bred with tails in an odd position. Some have their tails in a curl high up their back, which makes them look alert when in fact they are relaxed. You have to take this into consideration when you want to read our tails. Although even dogs who are bred with tails in curls on their back can very well push their tails between their legs. I know from experience: in our puppy class there was a cocksure maltese. He was only three months old and thinking he was the pack leader. Of course I could not let that happen, as the senior dog in the group (I was five months old at that time). So I disciplined him. His tail went right between his legs. After that we became friends.

Who’s the boss?

One of the biggest misconceptions about humans and dogs is the ‘boss-idea’. The idea that in a human-canine-relationship the human should be the boss of the dog. If not, the dog will be the boss and this will cause a lot of trouble.

This is a ridiculous idea. It is simply not how things work and it causes a lot of trouble in the relationship between humans and dogs. That is why I will explain how it does work, in real life.

Dogs and humans have been living together for thousands of years. Not in a boss-subordinate hierarchy, but in a relationship based on mutual respect and the idea of working together. We use each others assets to obtain a mutual goal. Like food and safety. This requires a good cooperation and an understanding between dog and human. You can see how this works with dogs that really work with their human, like police dogs, herding and hunting dogs. The police officer is not the boss of the police dog and the police dog is not the boss of the police officer. They know each other thoroughly, they know each others strong points, needs and limits and they work with that. They work together, as a team.

Nowadays a lot of humans live together with dogs, but they do not work together. They walk their dog, usually not paying much attention to the dog. I see this a lot: the human is talking to another human or into this strange device they seem to carry with them all the time. The dog is sniffing the air and pulling the human on the leash to where he wants to go. There is no interaction whatsoever.

And that is where the trouble begins. Humans don’t seem to understand that they have to work with us, in order to have a good companion in us. They think we will not lie on the couch or jump over the fence or dig holes in the garden or whatever it is that they don’t like, just because they told us they don’t like that. So when we do, they’ll complain to other humans that their dog is not listening and they will probably hear that they “have to be the boss”.

But this is not how it works. Look at the tv-shows of Cesar Millan, the famous dog whisperer. A lot of humans seem to think that he is the guy who promotes the conception of a human being the boss and the dog the subordinate. But I see something else. The dogs he works with are usually bad mannered or downright crazy. He has to be clear with them from the start and that may seem bossy. He sometimes even pushes a dog to the ground, forcing him to be subordinate. Whenever I see this in his show, I look the other way. I think it is embarrassing for the dog, his friends will never take him serious again. If Mr. Millan would do that to me, I would certainly bite him. Happily, he hardly ever comes to Holland.

Anyway, when you see his show, take a better look at what he does after his so-called disciplining the dog: he starts working with them. And that makes sense.  He makes sure they get the exercise they need. He investigates their special needs and works with that – he lets them herd sheep, for instance. And what is very important: he really interacts with the dog, all his attention and focus is directed to the dog. That is what makes him a dog whisperer. The same applies to my personal trainer, the Dutch dog whisperer. She is there, she focusses on her dogs. She knows them and their needs and she works with them. You can see the result: we are a happy pack.

Nicoline and friends

So here’s the clue: you do not need to be a boss, but you have to build a relationship with your dog. When you have true focus and attention, you will receive the same from us. We will get to know each other and work together. Sometimes the human will tell the dog what to do and that is fine – this is a complicated world and following the human directions may keep you safe. Sometimes the human will depend on the dog, because we have certain abilities that humans have not. Like tracking down tasty bits of pizza. Or finding the best way to cross the ocean!

Hike4

Not every dog can be a police dog or a herding dog. But you can go out together and have Adventures. Enjoy the weather, enjoy being outdoors, have fun. Do games together. Forget about being boss. Be together. That is what makes a human-canine-relationship one of the most special relationships in the world.

Hazard free jogging

This blog is about humans. Humans jog, they don’t run – look at their pace! They are slow. That is not running. Dogs run.

Yesterday M was talking to a jogger we met on the beach. They discussed what to do when a dog reacts aggressive towards a jogger. It wasn’t about me, I never do that, of course I don’t! P and I go jogging together so I know what it is like. But some dogs do chase joggers.

The guy told M he had heard that when a dog growls at you and snaps at your legs, you have to confront him. You have to look him in the eye and shout at him to go away. Well…. I was relieved M told him this is a bad idea. When you do this, some dogs will back off, but the nasty ones will think you challenge them and they’ll attack you. I don’t think humans who like jogging consider dog wrestling part of their exercise (although it could be an interesting form of cross-training).

So what should you do? The solution is simple:  slow down to a walking pace. Never look the dog in the eye, but relax, walk on and pretend you are enjoying your walk. When there is some distance between you and the dog, start jogging again.

I know some humans hate to slow down when doing their exercise, but hey, it is a small effort compared to having to go to the doctor because a dog bit you. And by the way, slowing down gives you the opportunity to enjoy your surroundings. You can look at the sky and the beautiful trees around you! That is good for your health, too!

And yes, I know some humans will get angry because it is not their fault they meet a dog that does not behave correctly towards joggers. They’ve got a point. But in the real world, what are the options? You can stop and start arguing with the human of the bad mannered dog, but that won’t solve your problem and will probably not convince the human to go to a proper dog training (some humans never learn). I think this is a waste of time, so I’d suggest to all the joggers who read this: apply the simple solution I just gave you.

Oh, and there is something else. It is obvious but I’ll mention it anyway because sometimes humans can be really silly: do not go jogging in a dog park or on the dog beach when you are not comfortable with dogs. You might meet us.

Friends on the beach