Every day I work with dogs that bark, lunge or growl at people,
dogs or novel objects. Commonly these dogs are labeled as “aggressive”
when in fact they are usually fearful, anxious or shy.
When dogs (and people) are put into situation that make them uncomfortable they will sometimes react with a survival response of “fight.”
When people “fight” they will yell, hit or become violent in other ways.
When dogs “fight”, they bark, growl or lunge.
Because this response is often labeled as “aggression” the dogs are treated as if they are “bad dogs”
rather than considering they are afraid. Many of these dogs can overcome their fear if they are treated with compassion and empathy. Sadly, some people will hurt these dogs
to stop the “aggression” instead of dealing with the fear or anxiety.
When we describe the behavior for what it is, “fearful of dogs/people” instead of labeling them “aggressive,”
it is easy to have compassion for them.
Many time people will label a dog as “stubborn”
because they won’t do what the person wants. Typically, these dogs are not actually “stubborn” but they may be distracted, worried or confused.
I will commonly work with people who tell me that their dog is “stubborn” but in reality, the dog actually does not know what the person wants
because they have not been taught properly or thoroughly. If someone was talking to me in a language I did not understand, I may appear “stubborn” when in reality I just did not understand what the person was saying to me.
Although people believe that a label in a proper description
of a person, dog or behavior,
it is actually a judgment. Unless we take time to understand why a behavior is happening,
we don’t really know why it is happening. If a person sleeps a lot, they may be labeled “lazy” when in fact that person may have just undergone a treatment of chemotherapy.
Instead of jumping to conclusion and labeling our dogs, we should take time to understand them.
Learning how to read dog body language
is the first step to understanding why a behavior is happening. Since dogs don’t use language to communicate, they use their body. Next time you are tempted to label your dog, take a minute to watch his body language,
look around at the environment and be compassionate about what he might be feeling. Once you take time to really understand, you may find it hard to label so quickly.