It was the first sunny, spring Sunday… I meant to enjoy the warmth and a book on a beach chair in my yard. Everything was ready, lemonade, book, sunglasses. Fun in 3…2…
And here we go, my neighbors had guests. The whole family was there, grandparents, parents, grandchildren. And the new labrador puppy they got some months ago.
I usually avoid people who are walking dogs, training dogs, demanding stuff from dogs, or talking to dogs. Hell, I even usually try and avoid seeing people and dogs together. It breaks my heart. Once you get used to noticing the uneasiness in dogs, you can’t withdraw it anymore. You see it and you feel so sorry for them. So mad about how unfair, bossy and mean the human attitude is towards them, even when people mean to be a good owner, good friend, and good teacher.
So, I tried to ignore what was about to happen in my neighbors’ yard, but I wasn’t able to. The kids started to play with that poor 5 months old pup. They called him a thousand times, made him sit a hundred times, demanded him to stay stiff while they threw the ball, then asked him to fetch and competed with him in grabbing it. The dog sometimes got swamped in the process, but he tried so hard every time. Whenever he managed to get the ball, they made him give it back by holding him tight and forcing him to open his mouth. Then they made him search for them.
A kid was hiding and the others asked the pup to find him. He was dragged in a corner by his collar, “sit, stay, don’t look, look for her, no, not yet, stay, I said stay, look for her, sit, I said sit, go for her!” The pup did it four times. He was showing stress signs since the very beginning, which of course, no one bothered to notice, not even the grown ups. Since no one cared to listen to him or respect him, he tried to avoid the situation in order to feel better: he went sniffing the fence as far away as he could, and grabbed a toy in order to cope with his increasing stress.
They called him back over and over, and as he kept desperately ignoring them, they yelled at that stupid dog and dragged him back. “You HAVE to look for me, we’re playing.” When they tried to open his mouth again, he finally growled and got slapped. I was surprised it took him so long to get there. Dogs are sometimes a kind of saints.
He’s five months old. What he has already learned is: my family doesn’t understand me. My family is inconsistent. My family is aggressive. My family is crazy. My family isn’t trustworthy. My family is unfair. I’m totally alone and the ones who should play, work, cooperate and live with me act against me. I have to defend myself from my family. Of course, he doesn’t think all that. But he feels it. How sad this is. And he will keep on loving, obeying and sticking with them. He will follow them when unleashed and everyone will think he’s a happy dog, living in a happy family. What else could he do?
Dogs are very talkative if you can understand their language. They ask, they make statements, they demand things, they express feelings. And still, people don’t notice a thing. People understand a dog’s behavior on a basis which is made out of prejudices, vacuity and convenience. We adopt dogs in order to get something enjoyable which sticks to our wishes. He has to. We don’t care about how he feels, not really, so we don’t see his true needs and emotional state. It’s easier to step over them in order to force them to act as the perfect toy. This is a really easy game when we deal with puppies.
People take puppies everywhere but never pay attention to what’s happening. They take them downtown during festivals, into pubs, along crowded and noisy roads. They allow everyone to pet them, they drag them on the leash if they aren’t willing to walk. They knacker them out with demands. And puppies seem to bear it. They even fall suddenly asleep, even amongst a yelling crowd. I once chased a couple who was dragging a two months old puppy in a mall. He was too scared to be able to walk so they just kept walking and dragging him like a mop. “Cause you know, he has to learn.” As soon as I reached them to ask them to stop, the pup curled up in a ball and almost fell asleep. Alienation and sleep are the ultimate signs of a puppy in distress.
So yes, puppies kind of lie, if you don’t pay attention to their slight signals. They seem to be fine with everything and people keep acting like everything is okay. But since adults don’t lie, you are going to get in trouble when that puppy grows up. Dogs don’t suddenly get crazy at one or two years old. They just eventually show the outcome of what they experienced when they were younger. Of course, genetic pattern does count. This is why humankind is still alive. We spent thousands of years killing the dogs who didn’t get along with our tyrannical behavior, so most dogs just keep carrying on day by day.
I wonder how long it will take for my neighbors’ pup to bite them…
Puppies Don’t Lie
Dogs don’t lie. Each and every one of them has his own personality and they look straight when it comes to dealing with other dogs. We look at the behavior, they look at the personality. If a reliable dog doesn’t trust an apparently calm dog, you can bet he has some reason for it. This thing applies to pups as well. Being young doesn’t mean being a cute piece of clay.
I once saw a nasty puppy. People thought he was tough, aggressive and that he was going to grow up a pain in the ass. But the other dogs weren’t scared of him. They looked beyond his attitude. It ended up that he was just an insecure and scared puppy, who was desperately trying to find his way in this world.
I once saw a calm puppy. People thought he was quiet and manageable, and that he would be a great family dog. Truth is, the other dogs were too scared to approach that furry tiny ball. He was so calm because he was so confident, strong and aggressive in his personality that he didn’t need to show it off.
So, do puppies lie or not?
They communicate. They experience emotions and feelings. They try to sort it out when it comes to surviving with us.
We just need to take off our filters and sincerely look at them.
Of course, this is not convenient. This is not easy. And it requires some study or huge sympathy many of us simply don’t have. I lost mine during classes about how to be a dog trainer. Most of what dog trainers usually learn has nothing to do with a dog’s emotional state of respect, or with communication. It mostly involves mechanical stuff and how to make customers happy with their dogs, not how to make dogs happy with their owners.
But I got lucky enough to meet some different kind of dog trainers. A crazy thing happened to me and made me look desperately for real help, until I ended up finding it.
They taught me all this stuff I wrote about, they made me drop my filters, learn to listen to dogs and to communicate properly with them.
Alexa carries out research on inter- and intra-species aggression in dogs, in collaboration with Prof. Valsecchi of the University of Parma’s degree program in Biology.
In 2010 she was a speaker at the second edition of the Canine Science Forum, in Vienna, where she gave an oral presentation entitled, “Flight, foe, fight! Aggressive interactions between dogs” (A. Capra, S. Barnard, P. Valsecchi).
In 2008 she was a speaker at the first edition of the Canine Science Forum, in Budapest, where she gave an oral presentation entitled, “Are pit bulls different? Behavioural evaluation within a rehabilitation program for ex-fighting dogs (A. Capra, L. Marazzini, M. Albertini).
Since July 2003, she has participated in scientific research on the rehabilitation and re-homing of ex-fighting dogs (pit bulls), as head of the rehabilitation program. Since July 2004, she has served as coordinator and sole director of the rehabilitation program run by ENPA, the Italian National Institute for Animal Welfare and Protection.
She is a professor in the master’s degree program in Dog Training at the University of Pisa Veterinary College.
Works on dog behavior: http://www.ethogramdogbehaviour.com/book-dvd-download-dog-training.html
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