Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is that a fearful dog?

Here’s a scenario to think about:
You walk up to a very handsome black dog. He’s holding his tail low, but it’s wagging. You don’t notice that as you get closer, the tail gets lower and lower but starts wagging with greater velocity.
All that matters to you is, you’ve seen a wagging tail. That’s a sign of friendliness and happiness, right?
The dog not only appears to be smiling, but his tongue starts going the closer you get. It’s out and licking at your pant leg before you even get close enough to make physical contact.
Wagging tail, licking tongue. Must be a friendly dog.
You don’t notice that his hair has poofed up a bit a long his back — it’s too small of a change for you to pick up on. You don’t notice his rounded eyes darting back and forth, whites of his eyes showing while he avoids making direct eye contact with you. You don’t notice that his ears are glued back against his head.
All you see is a handsome dog with a wagging tail and a licking tongue. A friendly dog.
So you reach your hand out to pet this friendly dog, and WHAP! You’ve been bitten. It was instantaneous. You are left in a state of shock, holding your bloodied hand and wondering what the heck happened.
It happened so fast, you didn’t notice that the dog recoiled at the sight of your approaching hand before rebounding and sinking his chompers squarely in the palm of your hand.
The dog bit quickly, broke the fine skin on your hand, then released and ran away.
What happened? Why in the world would this friendly dog bite you just after wagging and licking?
The answer, of course, is that you’ve just approached my dog, who is extremely fearful. And this is how he reacts.
Most people do not believe me when I tell them Sensi is a fearful dog.
They see a happy, handsome, laid back, relaxed and impeccably well behaved dog. My dog does not give the appearance of being fearful, at least not the type of appearance people recognize.
I, on the other hand, can see a bite coming a mile away. It didn’t always used to be that way, though.
I searched and searched for answers as to what was making my adolescent dog suddenly become aggressive. Was he dominant? Was he protective? Was he picking up on something bad about a person that we didn’t have the instincts to know? What in the world was making my dog freak out and become aggressive in the most unexpected situations?
I gathered all the information I could about different types of aggression. None of it fit Sensi and the behaviors he was displaying. I felt like I was at my wit’s end.
Then I read an article about how a fearful dog may react to a new person, and the article was a play-by-play of exactly every motion made by my dog. From then on, I knew what I was dealing with.
But oh boy, did it take a lot of time to learn how to deal with it.
Tomorrow, I’ll go over some of the physical displays dogs engage in while scared.
Knowing all the ways your dog is trying, usually in vain, to tell you it’s scared is the first step in learning to deal with a fearful dog.

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