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It is a tribute to their adaptability as a species that they cope with humans as well as they do. However, the increasing number of dogs needing 'shrinks' demonstrates how much pressure the pet dog is under in our modern world.
The lack of a normal canine family for young dogs to be raised in can sadly lead to dogs not understanding how to interact properly with their own species, either. We all know of dogs that do not understand how to 'talk' to other dogs.
Signs of stress include:
• licking lips and/or nose when worried about something;
• taking the lip licking further by yawning widely;
• turning away from the object causing the anxiety, sitting with its back to the object, or even moving away.
The above are also called 'calming signals' as their intention may be to calm the person/dog causing the anxiety. Dogs are good at appeasing others, or showing uncertainty, by:
• wagging tails sideways, or wagging their whole behinds;
• approaching slowly (does this ring a bell on recalls?);
• using puppyish behaviour such as licking people/dogs.
We have all seen these eternal puppies in the park. They come bounding energetically towards our dogs, rushing straight into our own group of dogs. For most dogs, this behaviour is considered rude. They will respond in different ways to the approach, including chasing the rude dog off with a snap.
Dogs will always provide some clue as to how they are feeling in such a situation, and how they might react. Watch out for freezing and stiffening, or signs of stress as described above.
Be pro-active - move away from the approaching rude dog.
In training class situations, do not place your dog in a position that will make it extremely anxious. This is unfair on your dog, will undermine its trust in you, and can lead to problems later.
Learn to read your dog - watch out for signs of stress and calming signals, and do your best to figure out why the dog is using them, and who they are directed at. If your dog is worried about another dog, move away from that dog, and place yourself inbetween. If your dog is worried by the class trainer, find a different class or club!
And above all, if you realise that your dog is using calming signals on you - lighten up! Yawn, stretch and lick your lips, then smile and have a game with your dog.