Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't Smile At Dogs

From Cheryl Falkenburry, Animal Behavior Coach

Q: Someone told me I shouldn’t smile at my dog because the dog may attack me. Is that true?

A: The person is referring to dog body language. A show of teeth is a threat when dogs do it to each other. It sends the message that the dog is not happy with the situation and may attack if the other dog approaches.

Some people feel that dogs will observe a human smile in the same way. However, dogs are pretty clever creatures. If they live with humans, they soon learn that when a human bears their teeth good things happen. When we smile at our dogs, we usually call them to us, stroke them, give them treats, and generally talk in a happy voice.

Dogs quickly discover that human body language means something totally different. If a strange dog is approaching you outside, it’s best not to look at the dog and smile. Staring at a dog is definitely a challenge and this dog may not have experienced a human smile as a good thing. It’s best to divert your eyes, look to the ground, don’t move, and keep a dead-pan face.

If you are being approached by your own dogs, though, you can talk to them in a happy voice, toss treats, and smile away. Your dogs will soon learn that smiling is a good thing, and they may even appear to smile back. They don’t possess the facial muscles to smile as a human does, but their chin drops in a relaxed position with the tongue hanging slightly out when they are happy. Their tail smiles by wagging in a low sweeping motion with often the whole rear-end wiggling with it.

Dogs and humans can develop their own way of communicating by associating good things with certain actions. So smile away and let your dog know that a show of human teeth is a wonderful thing indeed.

Cheryl Falkenburry, Animal Behavior Coach, helps make sense of mind-boggling animal behavior. Visit her website for other behavior tips. Set up a private session to work directly on your pet's problem.

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