Body Language!

In 2013 Ray lunged at, and grabbed, our neighbor’s arm. It was a very bad misreading of body language (The full story is in his book – see right side of screen).

Since then we have continually put him into situations that are deemed “safe”, but which involved people at close quarters. There have been occasions when I have asked somebody to step back a little but, in general it has all worked out very well and Ray seems to be a lot more trusting of people.

As we came back from our walk yesterday, another neighbor came over to chat and I noticed that he was gesticulating quite actively. I also noticed that Ray was in his “down” position but watching every move. I kept glancing at Ray in order to catch any early signs of an imminent reaction on his part, but he seemed quite content to just stay where he was and watch. I gave him a “Good boy buddy” and a treat!

As the conversation continued, the neighbor was unintentionally moving closer to Ray while still waving his arms around as he talked!  I was now getting a little more concerned and was looking at Ray more than I was the neighbor, but he just stayed on the ground watching every move. “Good boy buddy. Have another treat”!

The neighbor had no idea of what was going on in my mind, and neither of us could know with any certainty what was going on in Ray’s mind, but the gap between the two of them kept reducing. The neighbor was very relaxed and chatting away, and Ray was still in his down position and not seemingly over concerned, but I was getting quite stressed out!

I eventually asked the neighbor to take a few steps back and away from Ray, which he quite happily did, and Ray stayed relaxed in his “down” position. Having witnessed his arm grabbing incident a few years ago, will I ever trust him completely? No.

As wonderful a family member as he is, and despite the huge progress that he has made over the last 3 years, he is still a dog with the ability to rationalize circumstances and react accordingly. He is also, much like us, capable of making mistakes!

How I wish some other dog owners would also understand that their furry friend may be a well balanced and well trained canine, but he/she IS a canine and has certain attributes that may surface when least expected. Because we cannot totally control our surroundings, there will always be that possibility of circumstances which could result in an issue.  Can I offer a 100% guarantee that Ray will never lunge and grab again? Of course not, simply because I cannot control 100% of his surroundings 100% of the time. From my perspective, to answer with anything other than “No” would be totally delusional.

I am 95% (a purely speculative number) certain that I can predict and control Ray’s behavior in various circumstances, but do I have the right to gamble on somebody else’s health by ignoring the 5% that I cannot predict and control? I don’t think so!

Due diligence at all times. Isn’t that what taking responsibility for a dog entails?

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50 thoughts on “Body Language!

        • I think one would need a psychology degree (which I do not have!) to answer that question however, I have some thoughts:
          – Self centered lifestyle so only their gratification is considered. No thought about the dog.
          – Pride/arrogance so they reject opportunities to learn about communication skills
          – So self absorbed that they really do not have time to work with a dog!
          – Dog seen as cute fashion accessory. When fashion changes… so does dog!
          – Ignorance about animals, their genetic traits = their needs. The dog has to fit into their plans, which becomes so inconvenient.
          – Whereas puppies are cute, adult dogs have expectations… like regular exercise.
          – A belief that dog training is pretty intuitive and any fool can do it.
          I sincerely hope that these people never have children!

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          • I think you’re right on all of those points! Especially the one about a self-centered lifestyle. I think in this society everyone is so busy, that the needs of an animal are furthest from their mind. They want the pet to conform to their needs and don’t consider the needs of the animal.

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            • Exactly. You only have to notice how many people are dragging their dog along for a walk while they are texting away!. Not only are they missing out on an education, but they are missing a golden opportunity to bond with their canine buddy! Very sad!

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  1. From my experience, you don’t understand canine behavior and body language until you have to. The folks that yell “(S)he’s friendly,” as their dog is running at you or those who let their dog intrude on your dog’s space with the “(S)he just wants to be friends,” excuse has not had the challenge that comes with a fearful or anxious or reactive or [insert any number of issues] dog.
    I have learned so much from Liezel and continue to learn every day. It’s my job to protect her and make sure she’s not put in a situation that will cause a reaction.
    Excellent work with Ray – and a big pat on the butt to Ray for being a good boy!

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    • I agree with you completely. One common problem seems to be a very simplistic view of dog ownership. So many people have met Ray and commented on how they would just love to have a dog like him. Of course they have no concept of what the last 3 years has entailed (and what life with Ray still entails). I really don’t know what the answer is, other than perhaps enforce a mandatory information session prior to a dog adoption.

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  2. The secret truly is to be willing to understand the dog and study their reactions and habits and of course, always be attentive when with the dog. Other people don’t need to understand the dog but the owner should! Many difficult situations can be avoided that way for sure!

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  3. The daughter of a friend of mine has just adopted a rescue racing greyhound. This is her first dog. She works 2 jobs and has a medical condition. The rescue group is helping her through the transition (it’s only been 2 weeks) but she keeps being astounded by the dog. The dog has uncrated (and destroyed the crate) himself. He can take off a muzzle. He can access things that she thinks he can’t (definite counter cruiser). He ripped open his milk bones and had a party. She keeps being surprised. He’s had an accident or two inside her apartment and destroyed 3 venetian blinds. From my perspective (and I don’t know anything about greyhounds!) I think the dog should be in a house rather than an apartment and I think she should have adopted a dog that didn’t weigh 90 lbs. However, the good news is that she adores him and seems committed to make this work. She needs to read your book. Perhaps that would make a great gift for her…..

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    • Hi Kate: It is my understanding that Greyhounds are generally very laid back characters. In fact you may remember (from my book) that our Humane society suggested that I adopt one as it would be my first dog. I would not have thought than an apartment life would be an issue, as long as it gets out for regular walks and toilet needs. His antics would suggest a separation anxiety issue. i.e. He wants to find his Mom and will do anything in order to do so… including breaking out of his crate. Destroying window coverings would be logical so that he has a clear view to look for her. This is a serious condition because he can severely injure himself. It is not impossible that he could try and jump through the window, or chew his way through the door! She should perhaps get a professional opinion on his issues because, if it is separation anxiety, it must be addressed. As for my book ……….. a wonderful gift of course!!!

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      • The dog is laid back and that’s why she is in love. He is doing things that she doesn’t understand. From reading your column I also thought it may be a form of separation anxiety and a desire to look for her. She says not. The dog is not at all aggressive (or interested) in other dogs (all good) and takes to people well. He has some behavioral issues that she has tried to overcome with restraints and that hasn’t worked. I told her to expect him to chew up at least one pair of expensive shoes. I think that is a right of passage. I am amazed at what I have learned about dogs from reading your column.

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        • If it is not separation anxiety (which surprises me from what you have written), then she presumably knows what it is. Just breaking out of a crate can cause damage so a future of high vet bills is quite possible, assuming the dog does not kill himself. Training a dog must be thought through carefully as the messages she is trying to give her dog could well be quite the opposite to what it is understanding from her actions. Dog training is most certainly not intuitive!

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                  • They only had him 2 weeks and he never had an accident with them nor did they crate or muzzle him. He had been with another family with young children for a short time. The story goes that he nipped one of the kids and was returned. I really hope this works for both of them. It must be so confusing to a dog to be moved so much.

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                    • Sadly Kate, so many people look at “a dog”, and all they see is “a dog”. They do not see a creature that is social by nature; that gets attached to people; that loves routines; that needs stability; that can not only expression affection, but can also react to rejection. The standard analogy is that a dog is similar to a 3yr old child with everything that entails. I would suggest that analogy is pretty accurate.
                      As for nipping a child? Nobody should leave a child unsupervised with a dog they were not familiar with. That is just plain stupidity. They need to understand what the child did in order to get nipped, and then ensure that the child knows not to do it again! In Ray’s early days with us, I bent down to pick up something that had fallen next to his food bowl while he was eating. He growled! That was a very clear message which indicated a good chance of a food guarding issue which, for an ex-stray dog would be understandable. Until that was resolved, we simply learned not go near his bowl when he was eating. A child would never rationalize like that, but its parents should.

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                    • Her mother (my friend who is not a pet person but has been very supportive) has told her to view him as a child. He is 4 years old. There is a lot of great stuff about him. He goes into his bed when she tells him and so far has walked nicely on a leash without reacting to people or other dogs. No food issues except for the milk bone incident but that’s normal. I often do the same with ice cream. I suspect she is most worried about his peeing accidents and destruction of the venetian blinds. The rescue group has recommended a belly band that is like a diaper. He has shown no nipping behavior at all and I also suspect that the child did something (innocently) that caused it.

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                    • The peeing could well be indirect separation anxiety i.e. he wants her attention … and it no doubt works (in his mind)! If it can be determined that he simply cannot hold his pee while his “Mom” is out, that’s one thing, but to diaper him simply to accommodate him is not resolving the problem, and could even stress him out further by having to wear this restrictive item!

                      I don’t suppose for one moment that he intentionally destroyed the blinds, but more likely was jumping up at the window. The nipping was no doubt a misunderstanding between the dog and the child however, it is much easier to teach a child what went wrong than it is to teach a dog! She must move on this asap because the more the dog gets used to misbehaving (our perspective..not his!), the more difficult it will become to change him.

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                    • I agree. It sounds like he went from a Rescue organization; to a family; to a foster home; to your friends daughter… in a very short time, another move could be devastating for the poor guy. In fact part of his current behavior may be a nervous reaction to his unstable background.

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  4. There is a wolf inside every dog, and there is always the possibility of this surfacing, maybe more so with a (rescue) dog we have not had since puppyhood. I always put myself between people, dogs and my dogs; it is second nature. It also shows my anxious dog LM that I am in control of the situation, and she doesn’t have to be!
    Still, how far has Ray come? You should all be very proud of your achievements 🙂

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  5. I totally agree with you. Genis is a very small dog, compared with Ray, but he can get very aggressive in the most unexpected circumstances. Unfortunately, people seem to think that their dogs have “the right to run free on the beach” and we have had a few close calls. Genis is leashed at all times when we leave the house and I always warn off people trying to pet him.

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    • Good for you. I get very tired of the “It’s okay he’s friendly” supposed assurance as an off-leash dog runs up to a leashed Ray. Everything is wrong with that scenario. Ray may not like the incoming dog. Ray’s “fight or flight” options are reduced to “fight” because of his leash, and I have a dog bite in my history so get concerned at an uncontrolled dog.
      As for the people who feel they have a right to walk up to him and pat his head! How would they react if a 20ft tall total stranger walked up and then bent over them to pat their head? Sadly, if Ray reacted badly, they would immediately blame him!
      We don’t deter people from approaching him, but we ensure that it is Ray who greets them rather than the other way round!

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  6. My boys have their own personalities also. They behave, at least with humans… Aside from Oreo’s over-excited jumping when being greeted.
    On the other hand, if another dog would run towards me (more than my husband) the boys would get between us and ‘protect’ me. They don’t get aggressive, however I see what they are doing from their body language. Normally the other dog just trots off and nothing happens. Worst case, some growling.

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    • Thanks Chris. As much as we tend to humanize our canine buddies, and as well adapted to our lifestyle as they can get, they are still canines. To lose sight of that fact is, to me, inviting a problem. We cannot even predict what people are always going to do with 100% certainty!!!!

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