A Lesson in Advocating for Your Dog

A Lesson in Advocating for Your Dog

Our dogs look to us for guidance. It is up to us to speak for them, advocate for their needs, and set them up for success. Often we think of this as only something to be exercised for dogs that have aggression, explosive tendencies, or issues that need to be worked on. This however, is not the case. Every dog, even the laid back social one, needs to be heard and spoken up for.

Today was a great reminder of that for me. I’m proud of my dog’s social skills. He is what I call true neutral: the goal of socialized. A well socialized and friendly dog is only 10% of the canine population (more on that at a different time.) My point to this is, we can take a walk on a dog friendly path and pass other dogs without any sort of indication that it phases him. He can say hi to a passing dog on leash, but he can also ignore it just as easily. He is not easily rattled.

We passed several dogs today on our walk, and I just shortened his leash and kept walking as I did not feel it was necessary to greet other dogs today. Phoenix easily accepted the cue and turned his attention to a bush or something else interesting to sniff every time. Towards the end of our walk however, we walked parallel to a big shaggy dog who for some reason, elicited a reaction from my German Shepherd.

Reactions aren’t always growling, straining on a leash, teeth bared and ready to charge. The dog in question was just walking on his merry way. However, Phoenix’s body language changed. He became focused on the dog, his ears pricked, had no interest in smelling, and his hackles went up. For whatever reason, this dog made his walls of caution go up.

Here’s the part where people start to get discombobulated. We don’t need to KNOW why that dog, who was just walking along, made mine uncomfortable. We don’t need to look at him and go well, maybe it’s his haircut. Maybe the guy walking him is wearing sunglasses. Maybe he was attacked by a dog that looked like that in his past....it doesn’t matter. The feeling of uncertainty my dog is having is valid, it does not need to be FIXED. For extreme cases? Yes, we do need to manage behaviors. But we always find ourselves asking WHY the dog is reacting this way. What caused this? But does it matter?

The gap between us grew smaller and the man asked if my dog was friendly. Before I knew it, the words were out of my mouth - “No, he’s not friendly.”

Phoenix is social, friendly, and a lovable dog. He’s never met an enemy, or someone he hasn’t forgiven for their wrong doings. He is one of many dogs out there who are okay with meeting strangers on a leash. He LOVES meeting other dogs. At this point in the scenario, so many people would push aside the hackles, the hyperfixation, and the signs the dog is showing, and say that yes, their dog would love to meet this stranger. Because why not? My dog is friendly.

That is not advocating for your dog. That is not listening to them, or setting them up for success.

Phoenix was telling me, for whatever reason, that he was uncomfortable around this laid back shaggy dog. So, we did not approach.

The emotions your dog feels, whether we label them as “good” or “bad,” are valid. Every single one. Some elicit more stress and panic in us than others. But that doesn’t mean your dog isn’t allowed to feel them. And even more importantly, it doesn’t mean that we have to shove them down, fix them, or alter them. Your dog is perfect the way they were made, and there is nothing to be fixed.

Listen to what they’re saying to you. If they’re showing behaviors that indicate extreme stress, work with a professional to keep them happier. Know that just like us, some days they will be social and other days they will want to keep to themselves. Advocate for your dog as their human and make decisions for them when they can’t. Trust yourself, and know that every time you speak up, you’re becoming stronger as a pair.

xo, A& P 

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