Tag Archives: dogtorial

Wagging

In my last post I wrote about the benefits of having a tail. Some humans pointed out to me that I forgot to write about something that is typical for dogs and tails: wagging. Dogs wagging their tails are happy, those humans tell me.

I am sorry to spoil their idea, an idea that is shared by a lot of humans. It is a misconception. We are not always happy when we wag our tail. To be precise: tail wagging has nothing to do with happiness! When we wag our tails, it means we are agitated. Sometimes we are agitated because we sense something nice is going to happen (yummy food! squeaky ball!) and in a way you can say that we are happy then. But when we wag our tail it can also mean we are insecure, angry or even scared.

Is that confusing? Not to canines. We sense each others energy, we know what the other dog means. To humans it can be confusing, because they have not learned how to read our body language. I will give them a clue. Look at the position of our tail when we are wagging. Is the tail up high in the air and wagging fast, it means a dog is over exited. He is not happy, he can even become aggressive. One sees this often when dogs meet. His tail will be high, wagging fast and he will make his body look bigger, standing tense. Usually he will be very close to the other dog. Too close to my liking – when a dog approaches me like this I snap, because they do not respect my personal space. Usually snapping helps, especially with intrusive males.

If the tail is very low, wagging fast, it means a dog is over exited too. It is exited and a little scared, with a look on its face that means ‘ooooh I do love you and I know we will go and do something awesome but will you please tell me what it is because I am really insecure right now!’ Something like that. This dog is not truly happy and his  wagging tail is showing exitement and insecurity.

Then there is the third position: a medium raised tail, wagging slowly. This means the dog is relaxed and yes, most of the time you can say she is happy. Usually you can see this with dogs that are walking leisurely, sniffing her and there, doing some quiet explorations.

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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.

 

Sweet girl / bad girl

Today, on the beach, a human asked M if I was ‘a sweet dog’. She said yes – of course she did, she is my human! But we both thought this was a strange question. You see: no dog is sweet or mean or ill tempered all the time. We are like humans, how we behave depends on the situation.

I can be a very sweet and well behaved dog if I want to.

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I can be polite and gentle.

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But I can be very mean, too. If that is the best thing to do in a specific situation!

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This last pic is of me and my friend Jip. We have an argument now and then, but we can be playful and friendly too if we want to.

So, the best answer to the question ‘is your dog sweet?’ is: ‘sometimes’. But that is a kind of answer that puzzles humans, because it is neither ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Humans do not like that kind of uncertainty, I noticed. If M would give them this answer those humans would ask her what she means and she would have to explain and before you know it she has to talk for a long time. Which is a waste of time, in our opinion. So she says ‘yes’ – or ‘no’, when we do not like the other human and want to get rid of him/her as soon as possible. Then we move on and use our time for the better things in life. Like walking on the beach.

Knowing one’s place

We dogs are easy to understand, if you know what to look for. We live by a few simple rules. Hierarchy is one of them. To us hierarchy is very important. That makes sense, because we live in groups. In groups of dogs or humans, that doesn’t matter to us. In a group you need a  hierarchy to function. Wild dogs need this structure to hunt and get their food. Can you imagine what would happen if every member of the pack would do as he pleases, one chasing a squirrel, the other chasing a rabbit and the rest of them snoozing in the sun because they ‘don’t feel like doing anything today’? Right: they won’t get anything to eat and they will die.

A lot of modern dogs do not need to hunt anymore. We are city dogs and farm dogs: we get fed by humans. But still we need hierarchy. It gives clear rules, a structure for us to function in. Like humans, we like to know the boundaries, so we can feel safe and free inside them. No structure means uncertainty and we do not like that. When there is no structure, we will make one ourselves. It comes natural to us, as you can see when dogs meet for the first time. They will sort out the rules and the hierarchy pretty quick. I noticed that humans do the same: as soon as they meet, they start exploring each others position in order to sort out the hierarchy. Funny, hey? Humans and dogs do not differ that much, surprisingly.

Like I said: we dogs live in groups and it does not matter to us whether it is a group of dogs or humans. We call it our pack, either way. My pack consists of M and P and Chuck. Sometimes it gets enlarged with other temporary members, friends from M and P or me. But this is my core pack. We have a strict hierarchy. Chuck is way down this hierarchy. That is why I let him sleep on my bed, but he has to stay on the ground. And I sleep in the chair. Which is more cosy and soft and also higher. We dogs take things very literal: higher in the hierarchy also means higher in height. A dog that sleeps on the sofa, the bed, in a chair is higher than the ones that stay on the floor. Like Chuck. I can even remove him from the cushion on the floor if I feel like it and he won’t complain, ever. Chuck knows his place, our hierarchy is very clear.

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Rude dogs, lazy humans

I find it amazing how silly humans can be. Some humans, I mean. Especially humans with bad mannered dogs. Where I live there are some areas where dogs are allowed to run off leash: the forest and the beach. In Holland everything is very orderly, there are designated areas and rules for everything. I don’t know why, but when you don’t comply you get a fine and that means less money to spend on dog cookies. Which, of course, is bad news. So M complies with these rules and I agree with her, concerning the cookie-consequence.

Anyway, we go to these dog-off-leash-zones a lot. And sometimes we meet bad mannered dogs there, running off leash too. When we are harassed by such a dog and our human tells the human with the bad mannered dog she doesn’t like that, she often gets the reply “this is an off leash zone, so my dog can do as he pleases”. Truly, that is the answer we get a lot. Amazing, isn’t it? As if an off-leash-zone means you can do anything you like! As if it is not their concern that other humans and dogs are being bothered by their dog.

I find this very strange. And very unwise, too, from the point of the bad mannered dog and his human. Humans usually end up in an argument when this happens, but we dogs don’t do arguments. We strike. Not the shy and polite dogs, they will hide behind their human. But dogs like me, we don’t accept it when another dog annoys us. Especially when I am with my friends, the bandidos. When a human is too lazy to discipline his mean dog, we will. We actually like doing it, so I hope we will meet one again soon.

Bubbles strand Nicoline

 

No words needed

One of the big differences between humans and dogs is the meaning we give to words. Humans seem to have an agreement about what words mean, no matter what the circumstances. For example: ‘walking’ always means moving the legs to get somewhere. So when a human tells another human she had a nice walk, the other human understands what she means.

For dogs this is very different. We do not listen to the meaning of a word, for us it is the attached action or mood that counts. This means humans can use words in a different way when communicating with us. Take my friend Kiesja. She likes to do doggy dancing. When her humans says ‘strawberry’ she pivots. That is the way she learned it. Her human could have learned her to pivot on the word ‘turn’, but she thought it would be more fun to use another word. To Kiesja this is not important, because she reacts on the intention of her human. They trained this a thousand times, so the meaning of the word ‘strawberry’ is ‘pivot’ to her.

This knowledge about the difference in the use of words for humans and canines is important, because it explains a big misunderstanding. Humans seem to think that they can use words and we will understand what they mean, like other humans do. But that, as you can see by the example of Kiesja, is not true. We dogs connect a word (or a sound or a hand signal) to an action. When this is repeated, we will perform this action when the word is spoken. Like pivoting on the word ‘strawberry’. Or barking on the word ‘quiet!’. Because, you see: we don’t get the meaning of the word ‘quiet’, like humans do. When we bark and our human tells us again and again to be quiet while we bark, we will connect the word ‘quiet’ to barking. Get it?

I will give you another example. We have some new dogs on the block, a couple of golden retrievers. They aren’t too bad, but when they see another dog they start barking like mad and pull their leashes. Their human is not very strong, so he gets dragged over the street by his dogs. He is shouting ‘hey! hey!’ to his dogs when they are doing this. It is all very embarrassing, really.  My point is: these dogs probably think by now that ‘hey! hey!’ means ‘bark and drag me!’, because this happens all the time. I guess this human wants to make clear to his dogs that he does not like their behavior, that is why he is screaming. But his dogs obviously do not get his meaning. Mind you, I do not have a solution for his problem (why would I? It is not my problem), although I do think Nicoline, my personal trainer, will know what to do about it.

Nicoline and friends

Anyway, the point of my story (which needs a lot of words, sorry about that) is this: please know that humans and dogs understand words very differently. Once humans know this, they can start communicating with us in a different way. They can use fun words for actions they want us to perform. Or not use words at all, but sounds or hand signals. We react to those as well as to words. It gives humans a break, because they have to talk so much already, to other humans. With us they can be quiet, because we will understand them just as well. Or even better, because words tend to muddle intentions and energy. In the silence we can tune into each others energy and be together. No words needed.

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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.