Our dogs are communicating with us all the time. Some messages are clear. Increased speed of movement indicates excitement. Some messages are subtle. Slight stiffening at a certain person’s approach indicates emotional discomfort. Dogs will always read us better than we read them. However, a well-practiced “dance” happens when we humans learn to closely observe dogs’ behaviors and work with our animals. Dogs offer us many clues about themselves when we watch and pick up on them.
Arousal Triggers and Intensity
What gets your dog excited? Many dogs respond with over threshold arousal behaviors during various types of transitions. Someone walking into the house (or a room…) or approaching on the street are common triggers. Escalated arousal level can also present with a dog that appears to be very calm and quiet. This emotional shutdown is often mistaken for a calm dog. Triggers can pile up, too, until the dog can no longer maintain a thinking mode. A visit from a friend, a trip to the school at dismissal, a long walk, a bath, etc….. all represent layer upon layer of stimuli and transitions.
How intense is your dog’s reaction? How long does it take him to return to a mindful animal, capable of responding to a simple obedience cue? This time frame is a clue into his intensity when his emotional threshold is breached. These are important factors in developing a training strategy to help your dog increase his threshold. A low threshold dog needs a more gradual way to work in order to achieve results. Otherwise, he is regularly set up to fail.
How long can you stroke your puppy’s back, belly, or head/face area before he gets nippy? Handling is an arousal trigger for many puppies and some adult dogs, too, especially, if the person doing the petting isn’t familiar. There is a balance of petting the dog for a duration that he enjoys and teaching the dog to tolerate handling that may not be welcome. Most puppies move over a threshold level of arousal with extended petting. Nipping behavior is the puppy’s way of giving his human a clue into his individual threshold. He will tell you when the threshold has been breached. If you don’t respect and respond to what he’s telling you, he will likely increase the intensity of his nipping.
Fear responses range from the obvious pulling away/backing up to the not always obvious freezing. When puppies and dogs stop during a walk and balk, this is often a fear response. The appearance of a puppy’s low-level fear response can grow into an adolescent’s more intense fear response. These clues should never be ignored. Dogs don’t outgrow fears of people, other dogs, places, or situations. They learn skills to cope when their humans work to change the animals’ conditioned emotional responses.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC