Anyone who has lived with dogs, and really loves them, knows that dogs have feelings. They feel happiness, fear, frustration, anxiety and jealousy, to name a few. Our dogs are profoundly affected by our feelings, too. They can sense when we are sad, excited or nervous.
But even though many dog parents understand this, and have their dog’s welfare in mind, they may not realize that they’re hurting their dog’s feeling unintentionally.
Things that we might assume are harmless — like smacking a rolled-up magazine against a palm, yelling at the TV during a football game or even the sound of an alarm clock — can be terrifying to a dog.
It’s our responsibility to try to understand our dogs and give them what they need. It’s equally important to understand how our behavior affects our dogs, especially when it results in emotional harm.
Here are some of the ways you may be unknowingly hurting your dog’s feelings.
1. Ignoring Your Dog
Do you push your dog away when she tries to climb in your lap and give you kisses? If you are constantly rejecting or ignoring your dog’s attempts to get attention or to give affection, your dog may come down with a serious case of the doggy blues. You are, after all, at the center of your dog’s universe. They depend on us for everything from their happiness to their food, and they thrive on our attention.
If you’re constantly pushing your dog away and/or ignoring her, you’re not only depriving her of affection but going against her nature. Dogs are social animals; they need to be around their pack. Isolation from their pack (you in this case) will eventually result in depression.
2. Rubbing Their Nose in It
Rubbing your dog’s nose in pee or poop when they’ve had an accident does not work. It’s an outdated idea, but unfortunately, many people still think this is appropriate. While it won’t teach your dog not to pee on your carpet, it will teach your dog to fear you. If you have a puppy, and the issue is housetraining, there are effective methods that will not hurt your dog’s feelings.
If your dog goes in an inappropriate place in your home, there are only a few reasons: they needed to be walked and couldn’t wait, something scared them, or they have a health problem (notice I didn’t put “they are trying to get back at you” on this list). Dogs have “accidents” usually because they can’t hold it, which means you either need to walk your dog more frequently or you weren’t paying attention to your dog, knowing she was giving you signals to take her out. By rubbing their nose in the accident, you’re exposing them to bacteria, and you’re not correcting the problem. In fact, you are most likely making it worse because now your dog has anxiety around a natural physiological process.
3. Using the ‘Come’ Command for Something Your Dog Doesn’t Like
Initially, this command is taught by giving your dog a reward when she comes to you. You’re training your dog that something good (a treat) is the result of coming on command. It’s very effective when you need your dog to come to you, for example, at the dog park or in a situation where she may get hurt.
If you use this command indiscriminately, sometimes for a reward and sometimes for a bath or medicine or anything your dog dislikes, your dog will be confused, her feelings will be hurt — and she won’t consistently come to you at the dog park anymore. Don’t use the “come” command to punish your dog.
4. Being a Party Pooper
Dogs thrive on exercise and mental stimulation — in other words, playtime. If you don’t provide some quality playtime with your pooch, your dog’s feelings will be hurt, and he might resort to destructive behavior in an attempt to get his exercise.
Playtime doesn’t have to be a full-on Frisbee game in the park. Ten minutes of throwing a ball down your hallway or getting down on the floor for some serious tug of war is all it takes to keep your dog’s spirits up.
5. Punishing or Laughing at Your Dog’s Fears
Like people, dogs can be afraid of irrational things. Common things, like skateboards, thunder, large trucks, the vacuum cleaner, even a particular floor covering, can be a source of doggy terror. They may react by cowering, urinating and shaking. Ears back, tail tucked, body low to the ground are all clear signs that your dog is afraid.
The best thing you can do for a dog that’s afraid is remain calm and remove the dog from the area or situation. The worst thing you can do is to laugh at your dog or punish her. Imagine how you would feel if the person you counted on most in the world laughed at your irrational fear of pickles. You’d still be afraid of pickles, but your trust in “your person” would be damaged, possibly forever.
6. Using their Crate as a Punishment
To a lot of dogs, their crate is their safe place. With a comfy bed and a little privacy, your dog can snooze the day away without a care in the world. That’s the way a crate is supposed to function for your dog.
But if you send your dog to her crate as a punishment, and even worse, yell and lock her in, that crate is no longer a happy space. You’ve destroyed her wonderful den and left her confused and upset.
The way to raise a happy, confident dog is with gentle handling, kindness and dependability. Learn to read your dog’s body language. Dogs thrive on routine, so always be consistent with your rules. Most importantly, learn what action hurts your dog’s feelings — and stop doing it. And never give your dog a reason to be afraid of you!