We’ve had such a lovely Summer. Although we haven’t been on holiday we’ve had some lovely days out and it has given me a chance to catch up with family and friends!
I’m the oldest of 7 siblings, and I’ve got 2 little nephews and a niece. Even though we are spread quite far across the UK, we are very close, so I try to see family whenever I can.
One weekend my sister Rosalind came to visit with my nephews Sonny and Arlo. Sonny is 1 year old and has just started walking.
And he was Pippi’s biggest fan!
He spent a lot of the weekend following Pippi round and talking to her (which she was a bit baffled by), and feeding her treats (which she loved!). Pippi sees my nephews regularly, but we have quite a quiet household the rest of the time, so the noise and movement from children is very different for her.
And a couple of times over the weekend she tried to take herself off for some peace and quiet, but with the two boys running around that was quite tricky! She started showing a couple of very subtle signs of stress, like yawning and licking her lips, and that was my cue to let her go into a different part of the house where she could nap in peace away from the children.
Now these signs of stress are very subtle, and easy to miss if you don’t know dogs very well, or if you are busy entertaining kids or looking after visitors. But if we don’t pay attention to them this is where dogs can react by growling or biting when they have had enough. And this is also often where when dogs react, the owners say ‘It came out of nowhere’ when actually the dog had been telling us it wasn’t happy for quite some time.
So that is why its so important to understand dog body language.
But in addition to this, trainers and behaviourists use a term called Trigger Stacking, which also plays a part in dog behaviour.
A human example of this would be ‘The Last Straw’. You’ve been at work all day, the train home is running late, its raining and you didn’t bring an umbrella. You get home and all you want is a hot cup of tea, but you open the fridge and there’s no milk. This is the last straw! This is the thing that makes you scream or cry, because even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal, you are already at your limit of stress because of the other negative experiences you’ve had that day.
Dogs are exactly the same. If they experience lots of negatives, they will tolerate them to some extent, but after a while they will have had enough and may react!
So think of your dog like a tower of blocks. And for each stressor take a block away. Your dog might have had a bad night sleep and have a bit of a tummy ache, so take two blocks away for that. She might have not had enough exercise that day, take away another block. She might be a bit overwhelmed by the busyness of the visitors and the noises of the kids toys – take away another block.
So by the time a child goes to stroke or cuddle her, that might be the block that you remove from the tower that makes it all fall down! And this is where the dog screams or cries (or barks!) because she has had enough!
So we need to look our for our dogs and recognise when they have had too many stressful incidents or too many triggers, and recognise that they are finding something difficult and do our best to make sure nothing else stressful happens.
And by doing this, and learning our dogs body language we can help keep them safe and our children safe too.