In houses with multiple dogs the best way to know that everyone likes each other is if they are NOT looking at each other. They can be playing, sleeping on top of each other, eating together and even madly in love with each other, but the minute they start staring at each other, then it’s time for you to watch.
The moment they start giving that “snarky” look, it’s time to brush up on the meaning of your dog’s body language. It’s better to study them now before you need them. Let me explain “snarky” so we’re all on the same page here. My definition of “snarky” in terms of my dogs is the human equivalent of when you’re upset with your spouse, sibling, parent or (any other human that you love or live with). Even the way they chew bothers you. Just tonight, or just this week, it seems to bug you. Sometimes everything he/she does “rubs you the wrong way.” Well, this happens with our dogs too, and we call it “snarky.” With dogs as with humans, it can escalate quickly and it can get scary. If you don’t fix it as each thing happens, it can get so bad it’s hard to fix.
There is no doubt that there is a great amount of stress in this house and I have been watching closely for signs that my two younger dogs may be heading for the dark place in their minds. When clients say to me,”it came out of nowhere, there were no signs, they just started fighting”, it often turns out that there were many signs. Once we start asking the right questions, there can can be a myriad of missed signs. After we learn to look and observe carefully, we can see the tell tale signs of mounting stress.
There are no absolutes, but there are definitely some skills you can learn. Important places to watch for trouble are doorways. Dogs can get very touchy about who goes first, and when there is stress in the house, who goes first can become more important than normal. This is also true for under tables and in other cornered or confined areas. Even if your two dogs love each other and share everything, if they are “snarky” at each other, don’t encourage sharing of small areas. High value food items or humans can also become worth fighting over. Give them space, take one or all of them for special outings doing something they love. If some minor discontent should occur, redirect the energy into something fun or open any doors to allow them more space (into a fenced yard of course). Separate them to give them some time to cool off. Try not to yell or scold a dog who is offering his opinion to his canine friend. We do not want Fido to associate harsh talk with his furry roommate.
We are able to understand canine body language including subtle tiny movements and reactions. It’s all very exciting. The body language of dogs is a very popular subject in the positive, peaceful, dog training world. We are studying hard to learn all that we can about how they communicate with their same species and ultimately, with our human world. An excellent DVD series by Sarah Kalnajs, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant & Certified Pet Dog Trainer called The Language of Dogs is a great start to learning about dogs and how they communicate. The more we learn about what they are trying to tell us, the safer we can keep them and ourselves. If (and that’s ALWAYS a big “if”) we are going to intervene in a dog fight we need to know if it’s just a screaming match between siblings or a death to the loser battle, in which you could be seriously injured.
The best thing to do in keeping multiple dog households safe and calm during stressful times is to anticipate, watch, and to definitely listen and plan.
Even if you don’t live in a multiple dog household, it could be even more important in some ways to understand canine body language. It’s good to know if that loose dog has play or lunch on his mind when he darts across the street to meet you. It’s great to know if your dog is scared or thrilled to see his new friend. As with “all things dog”, it all depends on the situation and on the dogs in question, but just like with humans there are signs that are universally understood and if we can learn them, we are on our way to being fluent in our best friend’s language. Here is a great blog by behavior consultant, Casey Lomonaco with a list of some signs that may look familiar to you. Understanding Dog Body Language and Verbal Clues
Remember a wagging tail isn’t always happy one.
Woof woof and barkity bark bark to all my human and canine readers.