What is my dog thinking? What is my dog feeling? Why did my dog do that?
As a pet parent we often struggle to know what our dog is trying to tell us. Dogs don’t speak human language and pet parents don’t speak dog.
After you become familiar with what dogs are telling us with the wag of their tail, the position of their ears, the position of their body, and the tone of their bark, you can take that information and move to another level of what I call the “Empathic” level of communicating with your dog. This could also be referred to as “Dog-pathic” to describe empathy with dogs specifically.
Empathy requires the ability to feel what another being is feeling.
Sadly it is true that not all people do feel empathy. There can be many reasons for this. The important thing is to know that you do have the ability to practice feeling empathy for people every day at some time on some level.
Now take your ability to feel empathy and practice relating to your dog on an empathic level. You need to do this with intention and focus.
Here are some scenarios that might occur with your dog that will allow you to practice on:
You are sitting in your favorite chair and you are watching your favorite TV show. Your dog has been lying on the floor for a while quietly. She calmly gets up and approaches you. She puts her nose on your hand. You move your hand away because you are engaged in the show you are watching and don’t want to be interrupted. Your dog keeps nudging your hand with her nose. She is persistent.
- Her bladder is full and she has to go outside
- She wants you to touch her and pet her
- She may want a treat because this is the time every night when you give her a treat
- She simply wants to be with you physically and feel your touch
You may be able to empathize even more possibilities. Acknowledging your dog is important. She may have to go outside and you may have to pause your TV show. Gently reaching for her and petting her may be all she wants. If she is a lap dog, bringing her up to join you in the chair may be an opportunity for both of you to snuggle together. The opportunity here is for you, as a pet parent, to take a moment and empathize with her. Try to feel what she needs from her perspective. See if you can think and feel from her experience. What is she feeling? What does she need?
You love going to Grand Avenue for shopping and eating and do so frequently. You hear about the Paws On Grand event and think how much fun that would be to bring your dog to share the fun time with.
Something to remember is that this will be the first time your dog has been to an event like this. You arrive and there are a lot of people and a lot of dogs. You are thinking this will be a lot of fun for you and your dog. You have her on a six-foot leash so you can keep her close to you since there are so many people and dogs at the event. You are both smiling and feeling good about walking down the street. Coming toward you is a family with three young children. The children are laughing loudly and running quickly toward your dog. Their hands are flying in the air because they are so excited to see your dog. As they approach your dog cowers and tries to hide behind your body.
- She is frightened of the loud voices and waving hands
- She needs you to keep her safe from what she views as an unknown (this has not happened to her before) and is fearful of what can happen. She doesn’t know what to expect.
You may be able to empathize more possibilities. The important thing is to try to experience the situation as your dog is. She has never had young children with high loud voices and flying arms running quickly toward her before. That must feel frightening. What are those loud noises and moving parts going to do to me? Children are simply being children. They are excited and running to a dog they want to see and maybe even pet. You can physically shield your dog from them. You can stoop down and physically support your dog on her physical level. You can tell the children to not run but approach your dog slowly and quietly. Explain to the children how their excitement can be upsetting for your dog.
Bring your dog with you to Paws on Grand and have a wonderful time. Be mindful of what your dog is feeling and both of you will have a great experience. Be Dog-Pathic!
Author, Advocate, TedX Speaker
Donna Chicone is an award-winning author, TEDx speaker and advocate for dogs. She is a former nurse, family and addictions counselor, 23-year corporate America professional, and host of Jazz and Jive’s TV Show. She is a devoted pet parent to her two Portuguese water dogs, Jazz and Jive, and is an advocate for the humane treatment of animals. She lives in Minnesota with her husband. When she is not writing or speaking about dogs, you will find her engaged in pet assisted therapy work and K9 Nosework with her dogs Jazz and Jive.
Donna is an award winning author and proud pet parent of two Portuguese Water Dogs, Jazz and Jive. These are her current and most passionate roles in life. Dogs have always been a significant influence and source of inspiration for Donna. As many people who have loved a dog will tell you, dogs teach us so much about life. They gift us with their constant, unconditional love and desire to be with us at all times. They give so much and ask for so little in return.