It’s Not You. It’s Me: Why our Dogs Act Differently Around Different People
The Fido you know and love will raise a lip and bare his teeth if you reach for his favorite ball, can be wary of new dogs and hates on-leash walks so much that he’s willing to chew through a lead to free himself. But hey, we all have issues and you love your canine companion more than life itself. You’ve come to terms with exactly who your dog is. You trade him a treat for his ball, skip the dog park, avoid street walks at all costs and drive the extra 10 minutes to the quiet, off-leash walking area. But this month, things are different. The routine is changing. Your promotion is up for review, you know your usual 8-hour days in the office are quickly morphing into 10-hour days, you don’t have time for your long off-leash walks and Fido is feeling lonely. So, you do the responsible thing and you hire a dog walker. You have a meet and greet, check all the boxes, explain Fido’s qualms about dog parks, leash walks and giving up his ball and schedule Fido’s first walk for a week from today.
Seven days blur by and before you know it, the big day is here. The minutes tick by as you anxiously await a text from the dog walker. Your fingers and toes are crossed, you’ve knocked on every wood surface you’ve seen today and as you look to the sky and whisper “Please oh please Fido don’t bite the dog walker when she reaches for your ball. Lord have mercy and bless my dog with the strength to wag his tail and keep walking when he meets another pup. And God, if you’re up there, I swear on my life that I’ll tone down my road rage if you would please, please just keep Fido from chewing through his leash.” *Bzzzzzz* your phone vibrates. It’s the dog walker… “Hey Mr. Smith! Just wanted to let you know that Fido and I had a great walk. We started out with a quick on-leash jog to the beach where we played fetch with his ball and met a bunch of new doggy friends! He even shared his ball and went for a swim with a Labrador we met. At the end of the beach session I clipped his leash back on and we dried out on our walk home. He’s all tucked in and tuckered out!”
“What? Did I just read that right?” You take off your glasses, rub your eyes and re-read the text. “Is it possible that the dog walker got mixed up and took the neighbor’s dog for a walk instead?” “So you’re telling me Fido actually played with another dog?” Your emotions run wild as you try to comprehend what just happened. “What kind of upside-down world have I been teleported to?” “This can’t be real.” “Wait… what the… does this mean my dog likes the dog walker more than me?!?!?” There it is. The big question. The one you’ve been circling around but couldn’t put your finger on… “Does my dog hate me?”
Uncross your fingers and toes, take a deep breath and don’t sell your soul just yet. Understand this: our dogs have an uncanny ability to sense emotions and energy. While it may feel impossible to understand why our dogs can act one way with us and a completely different way with a different person, there’s actually a logical reason for it all. And no, the reason is not that your dog likes the dog walker more than you :) A dog’s increased hearing, sense of smell and ability to sense vibrations means that even when you think you’re hiding your emotions from your pup, they can read you like an open book. You may not know that you’re transmitting your feelings about a situation to your dog, but you are. Your dog doesn’t even need to be looking at you to sense your energy, they can feel it through the leash.
Next time you head out for an on-leash walk with Fido or see another dog walking toward you at the beach, take a deep breath, think happy, pleasant, calm thoughts and curb your own emotions before you curb your dog. If possible, join in for a walk with your dog walker and observe the way they act around your dog on the walk. Learn from the body language, tone of voice and overall energy of the person who your dog behaves best around.
Often times, we are affected by our past experiences, if you witnessed a dog fight as a child or have had unpleasant dog-meet-dog encounters in the past, your stress may be setting your dog up for failure. If you’re nervous about walking your dog in public places, try walking with a friend and chatting along the way. Losing yourself in conversation is a great way to naturally manage your emotions. Ignoring your dog and distracting yourself from a potentially stressful situation will help your dog build self-confidence and stop looking to you for emotional guidance. Remember, if you have a dog that truly does not like other dogs or has serious resource guarding issues, do not put your dog or yourself in harm’s way. Work with a trainer to learn ways to swap negative reinforcement for positive reinforcement, take baby steps to control your emotions and celebrate the small stuff.
Instead of being offended when your dog is well-behaved with someone other than yourself, be excited that your dog may not be set in their old ways and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Turn to your dog, give them a pat, look them in the eye and say: “Hey Fido, it’s not you. It’s me.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t remove your dog from a situation that doesn’t teach him/her anything. Instead, supervise repeated exposure and teach your dog how you would like him/her to behave in that environment. The more you practice, the better the dog will be.