Category Archives: canine communication

Match Game – Adopting the Right Dog Part 2 — Adjustments and Accommodations

Sometimes, there is that moment when your eyes lock onto an adoptable dog’s eyes and there is an instant bond just like in the movies but that is a rare occurrence.  For a majority of the animals in a shelter you are going to see a sometimes shut down, scared or anxious dog.  It’s loud, often smelly and, did I mention, loud in shelters.Woman Rubbing Noses with Puppy

Then there is the cuteness syndrome…there are reasons we ooh and ahh when we see a cute animal or human baby.  When we see those cute little faces, our brains are washed in a wave of dopamine which is the same chemical reaction we have when we fall in love, have sex or use drugs.  So, the cuter the dog, the more our brain tells us we need that animal. Big eyes, round, bulbous foreheads, wrinkles of skin…all these trigger this thing in our brains that makes us feel good and want to protect these “babies.” Some of the cutest dogs I’ve known have been extremely fear aggressive and are not a good match for anyone but the most experienced dog handlers and guardians.

So, as hard as it might be, we need to fight off the dopamine and cuteness factor when choosing the right right dog for the family.  When you find the right dog for you, I guarantee he will be the cutest looking after a while.  All human babies, to me, look like Winston Churchill with their big bald heads and rolls of fat but human instinct of the moms always say their baby is the cutest.

One of my friends, Laurie, went out to shelters one weekend looking for a Yorkie or Silkie Terrier or something that was scruffy and fluffy.  She came home with a large, red, short-haired dog that looked like a Vizsla or Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. and has since adopted three more largish, red dogs!  The point is that looks are really only a small part of that bond you will establish with the dog in your family.

This is the advice I give people who are visiting a shelter to choose their next family members:

  1. Look at less subjective things about your new family member rather then how cute he is.
    1. Energy level – I always use the example of a border collie who is adopted by a family of couch potatoes.  Neither dog nor humans will be happy in the situation.  The dog wants to work and herd whatever it can.  The people want to lie on the couch and watch sports or movies…not participate in them!
    2. Sociability – if you are looking for a furry companion that loves all people and dogs and can join your family on outings and vacations then you probably don’t want the dog cowering at the back of the kennel who is terrified of all around. But, please, keep in mind, that shelters often are scary and a dog is not himself there.
    3. History with Children – if you have kids or grandkids then you want a dog who can be around them and interact with children.  Some dogs are so frightened by children that they shut down so you want to make sure your new dog is comfortable and unphased by the lively antics of a kid!
  2. Ask if the rescue or shelter has a “Foster to Adopt” program.  This allows you to see how the dog lives in your environment and allows the dog to show you their true selves.  But there is generally about a two-week “honeymoon” period when bringing home a new dog.  This first two weeks is where everyone is on their best behavior and not quite accustomed to their new situation.  Humans aren’t habituated to their new family member and the dog is getting adjusted to this new life.  As an adoption counselor I want to make sure my adoptions stick so if there are any variables in the situation like other pets, disabled individuals in the home, etc. then I suggest we try a Foster to Adopt first.  One couple came to adoptions and fell in love with a lovely pitbull mix we had available for adoption.  They let me know that the husband had done several stints in Iraq with the Army and is now suffering from PTSD.  We knew that the bond was already starting to form with him and this young girl pup but we all wanted to make sure that the daily stress of keeping a dog wasn’t going to make the husband’s PTSD worse.  I’m happy to say it was a match made in heaven and they are all living happily ever after.
  3. If you can take a few days off when you get your new dog everyone will be happier! There are a few days needed for adjustment period for both you and your new dog. You can ease that adjustment by taking a few days off to acclimate your new best friend to your house and your rules.  We see a lot of new puppies in the spring/summer time and that’s a great time for adoptions during vacations!

Bringing a new family member into your home is not something that should be a spur of the moment event.  You want the best family member you can get and your dog wants the best family he can get!  Do your homework and you’ll soon have a great new member of your family.

Need advice on training, dog selection, behavior or dog sports?  Hit me up and maybe your question will be my next blog!  –the Kritter Keeper


A Dog Is a Dog Is a Dog: Reading Body Language and Vocalizations

Gertrude Stein may find that “…a rose is a rose is a rose” rose_1_bg_030703but in the canine world a bark is not always just a bark! We can learn a lot from how dogs are vocalizing. Paired with the visual cues a dog provides, there are some very clear messages Fido is trying to provide to a human.  We just need to recognize these signals and sounds.

In the picture below, Oscar, my foster dog, exhibiting some Fearful Barking. I wish I had some audio of this picture of Oscar because he is clearly frightened of the camera lens. IMG_2087Notice he is avoiding eye contact.  If you heard his bark I would most liken it to a fear bark.  He was barking in a high pitched, wooing noise.  The position of his ears were back on his head. After this picture was taken, he jumped off his perch (he likes to sit on the patio firepit table) and paced back and forth on the deck for as long as I had my camera with the long lens attached.  As soon as I switched to a prime lens (a short one that doesn’t move) he quieted down and was fine.  He even let me take his picture.

In Barking the Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas, she identifies several types of barking including Excitement Bark, Warning Bark, Fear Bark, Guard Bark, Frustration Bark and Learned Bark.  The book is available through Dogwise Publishing and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get some more detailed information on dog vocalization and behavior.

Excitement barking also has a high frequency sound and can sound a little hysterical or constant.  The dog will be very aroused and have a higher stress level.  This is the ADD dog who can’t sit down at all or be still.  He might be jumping up and down, tail up and wagging excessively and his ears could be back or perched forward.  During an excited bark, the dog probably won’t acknowledge a command.

You might see a dog from behind a fence and hear on short, sharp “Woof.”  This is a Warning Bark and simply means that the enemy is coming.  If you hear this bark, it is wise not to attempt to pet the dog!  You might evoke the flight part of fight or flight but some dogs find it necessary to guard the homestead and defend his space.

Guard Barking is usually accompanied with growling noises and people immediately react to it as a form of aggression.  The dog will make lunging movements and has a very high stress level.  He is definitely in the defensive mode so he may “fly” or he may try to scare something or someone away by showing teeth, growling, lunging forward, air snapping and barking.  If that something or someone still doesn’t take the hint, you may see this dog bite but as a last chance effort.

Frustration Barking  is often what you hear in a shelter.  It is endless static barking with the same tone and sequence over and over. Behaviors that accompany could include digging, chewing, licking, chasing shadows or tail.  Frustration barking is often caused by long-term stress like a dog in a shelter, or chained or hungry.  This is maybe the most heartbreaking sound I can hear.

The last type of barking Rugaas discusses is Learned Barking.  It often starts out as one of the different types already described but it is something that the owner has consciously (or subconsciously) reinforced with the dog.  An example might be a dog barking at you to pet him. He won’t stop barking so you give him what he wants – you pet him.  Now he is learning that if I stand in front of Mom and bark at her, I will get something that I want or a reward. Learned barking could also be at the command, “Speak!” A reward is coming if I bark on command.  Sometimes, this is not a great idea as the dog will try to claim their rewards by barking even if you haven’t given the command!

Next time your dogs barks, stop and think about the triggers, his body language and the vocalization.  A bark is not a bark is not a bark!

What can you see from Oscar’s body language here and what do you think he’s communicating?