10 things your dog needs you to know


27 July 2015

1. Smelly is good

Strange as it may sound, when your dog decides to roll in something revolting, he's not doing it to annoy you! Fox poo, cow dung, and the remains of dead animals are often particular favourites, and although your heart may sink at the prospect of trying to get him clean afterwards, remember that to your dog a good coating of fox poo is the canine equivalent of Chanel No. 5.

There are several theories as to why dogs like to roll in smelly stuff, and it is thought that the habit dates back to their hunting ancestry. Quite simply, rolling in something as bad and smelly as fox poo helps to disguise their scent - very handy for hunters and an excellent way to confuse predators!

Although our natural reaction is to clean the dog as quickly as possible, many owners notice that their dogs roll more after they have been bathed in scented shampoos, so it may be worth switching to a non-fragrant product. There is also some anecdotal evidence that applying tomato ketchup to the smelly area prior to washing and rinsing will help to neutralise the odour.

Unfortunately there's not a lot you can do to prevent dogs rolling in smelly stuff, apart from being extremely vigilant on walks and trying to distract them with toys and play when you see the first telltale signs of rolling, which are sniffing and shoulder dropping.

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2. Be happy

Your dog likes to see you happy, and scientific developments have proved this. A recent study in Vienna revealed that dogs can tell the difference between human emotions. Using a touch screen and reward system, one group of dogs was shown two pictures of a woman's face - one happy and one angry. To make it even trickier, the pictures were side by side and showed only the top half of the face, so the mouth and teeth were not seen. If the dog touched the screen with the happy face they received a reward. The second group was rewarded with treats for picking out the angry face.

Scientists found that although both groups could differentiate between the happy and sad faces, the dogs who were rewarded for touching the happy face were significantly faster, leading to the conclusion that dogs dislike approaching angry people.

Another study showed that dogs are very good at trying to comfort people who appear sad. The research revealed that dogs were more likely to approach a crying person than someone who was talking or humming, and they appeared to show empathy for emotional distress by displaying submissive behaviours such as licking, lying down, and tail wagging.

3. There's always a reason

We may never fully understand why our dogs behave in certain ways, and although there could be a genetic element, their behaviour is probably caused by something that has happened in the past. For this reason be patient and never lose your temper with your dog, as it can sometimes prove impossible to work out what has caused him to become anxious or take a dislike to a particular situation or person.

Rescue dogs can have uncertain histories, but even dogs who have lived with a family since puppyhood can suddenly develop behaviours that seem strange to us but make perfect sense to them.

If you are worried about your dog's behaviour always seek early veterinary advice and if necessary request a referral to a professional animal behaviourist.

4. Not naughty, just stressed

When a dog barks if you ask him to do something, or suddenly sits down and scratches, or starts to lick himself, don't take it personally as he's probably not choosing to ignore you, he's simply trying to communicate that he's feeling confused or stressed. If a dog doesn't understand what he is being asked he may feel anxious and will try and relieve the stress with displacement behaviours, much as humans do when they bite their nails.

There are many types of canine displacement behaviours including scratching, shaking, yawning, urinating, looking away from you, or snapping at the dog next to them. If your dog shows any of these behaviours out of context then he is probably feeling stressed so try to work out what may be worrying him and how to reassure him. This could mean removing him from the situation, or taking a few steps back in your training to ensure he understands and feels comfortable with what you are asking him to do.

5. Have more fun

Top of the wish list for any dog would probably be for their owner to spend more time with them. We all get so busy with work commitments, family life, and caring for our homes that dogs often slip way down the pecking order. However, your dog is an important family member and deserves quality time with his favourite people.

Walking together can be fun, but so can just sitting together, stroking him and being quiet for a while, learning more about his personality. Treat him to a variety of different toys and treats and see which ones he enjoys the most. Does he prefer chasing a ball, playing tuggy, or working out where the noise comes from in a squeaky toy? Make time every day to just have fun!

6. Friends forever

Who else can you tell all your secrets to, and complain to incessantly about the people who annoy you, safe in the knowledge that your confidante will never judge you or tell someone else? Your dog would like you to know that he will happily sit with you and become the keeper of all your secrets and dreams, and his love for you will remain total and unconditional. You can return all that love by showing him how much you care and making him a priority in your life.

7. Learn the language

Dogs and humans speak different languages, but dogs are incredibly clever at reading our body language and understanding the tone of our voices. You will make your dog happy if you do some research to try to understand all the nuances of his body language so you can work out what he is trying to tell you about how he is feeling.

For example, if he wags his tail when meeting a new dog, it may not be because he's happy. The position of his tail and the way he is wagging it can be a good indication of whether he is feeling confident or a little bit worried. Once you understand how he is feeling, you can try to help him to feel as relaxed as possible.

8. Dogs are not babies

All dogs, whether they are cute toy breeds or working types, would like to remind their owners that they really are dogs, not babies. As great as it may be to give your dog a cuddle now and again - and who doesn't love to do that - it is still important to remember that dogs should never be viewed as a cool fashion accessory or a child surrogate. All dogs need plenty of exercise, stimulation, and free time to enjoy natural canine activities such as sniffing and exploring their environment.

The trend for dressing up dogs and carrying them around in handbags may seem harmless, but it's probably not so much fun for the dogs and many go on to develop behaviour problems or end up in rehoming centres when their owners are no longer able to cope. Dogs who are allowed to be dogs will always be happier!

9. Be a good listener

If only dogs could speak we would be able to sort out so many of their problems! Unfortunately they can't and when something hurts they can't just point to where the pain is. Instead they may refuse to eat, sleep more, or become a bit grouchy with other dogs or even people. A dog who suddenly dislikes being groomed, or doesn't want to play, may well be in pain, so take notice of what he is telling you and book an appointment for him at your vet's for a check-up.

10. Take comfort

Sadly, none of our dogs can remain with us forever, but when the time comes to say goodbye try to be brave and let them go before they are in too much pain or discomfort. The good news is that memories of all the lovely times you have spent together will be a great comfort to you and your family in the future. Once the grief has eased, start to look ahead and perhaps consider taking on another dog who can fill the void. Your dog would like you to know that every dog teaches their owner important lessons, and they will not want you to remain sad for too long, as they will faithfully remain in your memories and your heart.