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A Simplified Guide to Dog Behaviour

Aug 26, 2015

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking or how they feel? Dogs have ways of telling us, they just rely on us to interpret their body language in the right way to understand. It is easy to misread their signals, or they could suddenly do something that confuses you or takes you by surprise. Remember, dogs don't always thing the same as we do - despite them being man's best friend they are not human and your idea of what they may or may not like could be completely different to how they actually feel. This is a (very simplified) guide to dog behaviour that gives you an idea of how your dog may be feeling when you interact with them, by comparing them to interactions with people.


If you take a dog's treat or food bowl away from them, they're likely to get agitated or annoyed. Some dogs might not show this, and some genuinely might not be offended, but if you push them too far they're likely to get irritated. This is like if you were really excited about eating something and somebody was rude enough to take whatever you're about to eat straight off of the plate, or out of your hand. Or - even worse - taking the whole plate away! It shouldn't be necessary to remove food from a dog, and it can be dangerous to do so. In the long run it can cause issues with food pride, so always avoid contact when your dog is eating to prevent them from developing issues around food.



Similar to food, you should also avoid taking a dog's toys if you are not playing an interactive game. You're less likely to cause future issues surrounding giving up toys and playing in general if you don't try and force a dog to give up their toys when it isn't necessary. Imagine having a treasured teddy bear that you love playing with and have a particular way of playing with it, and somebody coming along and saying they want to take it away or they have a better idea of how you should play with your toy. It would wind you up - this is the same case for dogs.



Would you be happy to be approached and hugged by a stranger with no introduction and feeling like you can't get away? It would probably make you uncomfortable and nervous, so remember that dogs feel the same way - they need time to get to know somebody before they will be happy to have contact with them. Always ask the dog's owner if you can approach and stroke them, and always allow the dog to sniff your hand before you touch them. Avoid touching their face or surprising them by approaching them from behind. A good way to start is to give them a gentle stroke or pat on the top of their head.



Dogs aren't keen on being hugged - they feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Remember that, although humans use hugging as a sign of affection, to some dogs it is more similar to being prodded, poked or pinched in that they don't enjoy how it feels and it isn't going to make them feel loved and happy. They don't always enjoy having such close contact, much like you wouldn't enjoy being prodded by somebody. Remember not to pester dogs by pulling their ears or tail as they may not react badly but they most likely aren't enjoying it. It would be rude to pull somebody's hair or knock into them and expect them not to get irritated, so it's the same for dogs.



You know how annoying it is to be woken up when you're trying to sleep? The same goes for dogs. It really is irritating, and can make them feel uneasy, which means they're less likely to be happy enough around people to sleep. Remember that some dogs feel safest in an enclosed area when they sleep. It's a good idea to put an area aside for your dog to sleep in, and to leave them alone when they choose to go there.



Shouting can get on anybody's nerves, especially when you don't understand what they're saying. It can really upset dogs if you're constantly screaming around them as they don't know how to react. Where possible, use a calm and friendly voice to talk to your dog - you'd expect somebody to speak sensibly and reasonably to you so it's only fair to expect the same for a dog. 



It would confuse you if somebody tried to play with you and didn't explain the rules, or annoy you if they decided they wanted to play when you didn't. Although dogs are playful animals and love spending time with people, you need to make sure you are using appropriate games and times to play with them. Choose games that your dog can understand and that will keep them happy and healthy. Hide and seek, and fetch are great games for dogs because it keeps their mind and body active and helps to build up a good bond with them.



Sometimes your dog might take a while to pick up a new command, or even just to understand all of the basics that you're trying to teach them. Please be patient with them - it would really upset you if somebody shouted at you for not understanding straight away something they've asked you in another language. It's important to build a relationship with your dog using positive experiences, as it's far more rewarding to gain their love and trust rather than train them because they fear you! It might take a while for some, but all dogs learn at their own pace so they'll get there in the end with your support and encouragement.

These are all general tips, that are meant to give an insight into how dogs respond to situations compared to people. They won't all apply to your dog, or somebody's else's dog you know, or every single dog as they all have their own personalities! For more information on keeping children and dogs safe and happy together, you can read the online leaflet created by National RSPCA here.

If you are having trouble with behavioural problems with your dog it's best to contact a behaviourist, who can assess the situation and address specific problems with targeted training techniques. Although our staff receive training on dog behaviour, we are not behaviourists and cannot provide professional help.

Tags: dogs
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