Vocabulary helps to understand a dog's behavior
Mar 06, 2014 | 1435 views | 0 0 comments | 199 199 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lola, a puppy in training, spied the trio before I did, and let the owner and I know that we had approaching space invaders. Engrossed in their phones, three teens were walking toward us on the other side of the street. The pup growled, her fur rose in a Mohawk as she stepped forward on her leash. The teens turned the corner and walked out of sight.

Yikes, I thought, this pup is not even 4 months old and already worried about people outside her family. Fortunately, Lola’s young age will give us a good head start on improving her confidence, socialization and behavior in public. She will learn to accept people in her space by staying emotionally relaxed and polite.

Words demystifying dog behavior

In my first column I introduced the word ‘DINOS’ (Dogs In Need Of Space) to describe a dog that stresses when his/her comfort zone feels violated. In this column I’ll introduce concepts and terms I use to understand what a dog’s behavior is telling me. I can help a DINOS stay in his/her comfort zone if I have a hint about their thoughts and emotions. At that point I can take advantage of an opportunity to prevent or change stressful emotional and behavioral reactions.

A trigger, or a triggering cue or action, helps us know what is causing a DINOS to react. A trigger might be the sight or sound of people or dogs, or both. Sometimes it’s certain types of people or dogs. DINOS may react in specific places or circumstances. Some dogs can’t handle being rushed by a dog at the dog park. Maybe it’s people reaching out to pet them at the veterinarian’s office. For Lola, three unknown, relatively silent humans walking nearby off her property triggered her concern.

Threshold is a useful term to understand when a DINOS will react. A threshold is the point at which your dog begins to respond to the triggers.

By watching Lola’s response at the moment she notices them, her behavior will tell you whether she is in her comfort zone, or under threshold.

When you know what to look for, and the right point to intervene, you can be better prepared to help your dog through a stressful situation.

Finally, loading describes escalating emotional levels and behaviors. A dog that loads is moving out of its comfort zone and going over threshold. Once over threshold, a DINOS is fearful or forwardly reactive. Some DINOS load and go from under to over threshold in a split second. Others give you some time to engage your game plan to keep everyone focused and calm.

In my next column we’ll look at important behaviors using this helpful vocabulary.

I hope in this exploration of DINOS, whether you own or know one, you will understand that DINOS are not bad dogs. They are loved by their owners and just need thoughtful help to make their lives comfortable and safe.

Augusta Farley raises, trains and competes with Belgian Malinois dogs and runs Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy in Patterson. She also hosts a Patterson-based nonprofit dog shelter, Westside Animals for Adoption, on her property.
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