My mother loves dogs, but I don’t think she understands them very well. Mom’s not too steady on her feet these days and doesn’t want dogs bumping her or jumping up at her. That’s understandable, and I try to keep the boarders and daycare dogs away. However, even at the baby gates separating dog-space from mom-space, many dogs will jump up or roughly push at her (especially if there’s more than one dog) as she’s petting them. Invariably, when a dog does, Mom scolds it saying “bad dog” and “you know better than that!”
How can the dog “know” what we want or expect? She can’t read minds! Dogs have a different “etiquette” than people do, so she doesn’t know what we want instictively! We must communicate with her, tell her what she should do. But Mom, like a lot of people, is actually telling the dog the exact opposite of what she really wants.
Remember, dogs don’t understand English. We have to be very consistent in using the same words for the exact same situation for a dog to “hear” what we’re saying. One of the biggest mistakes we make is using the same word in multiple situations. If a dog has been taught that DOWN means “lie on your belly,” saying, “Get down!” when she puts her paws on our legs won’t be understood as meaning, “Take your paws off my leg and keep all four paws on the floor!”
You might argue that an obedient dog should take her paws off and lie down on her belly, but dogs don’t generalize information very well. They have to be taught to apply lessons learned in one set of circumstances to other times, places and situations. So, unless you’ve practiced the DOWN cue when your dog is jumping up at you, she won’t make that connection. Better pick another word like OFF to use for the “Keep all four on the floor” cue.
Also remember that in “Doglish” BODY LANGUAGE speaks louder than sounds. So, when Mom bends over, looking at and petting Fido, is telling her that what she is doing is just fine. Fido’s getting all sorts of attention, so she must be doing something right! A dog who didn’t like another dog jumping up would look up and turn away, then give “the eye” sideways look, showing a little teeth and growling. Even if a dog hears a scolding “growl” in a person’s voice, who continues to look at, talk to and pet the dog, Figo’s instincts tell to try harder to jump up and lick that person’s face.
Dogs often try to get in our laps when we don’t want them to! Sometimes, it seems as if they pick out the very person who dislikes or is afraid of dogs! This is because a human’s natural reaction to something we dislike or are trying to avoid is to pull back. In Doglish, this is an invitation! The person has pulled back out of the space leaving it wide open for Fido to come on up! This also explains why some people get greeting-jumped on more than others. If you back away from a jumping dog, you’ve once again invited her to continue getting in your “space!”
After Body Language, dogs pay attention to the tone of voice — the way we say something. High, rapidly repeated sounds invite a dog to approach and take action. My mother invariably speaks in a chirpy, excited tone of voice as she approaches a dog. “Is this Fido? Fido’s here! There’s my good girl, Fido! Are you going to come and see me?” By this time Fido is wriggling with delight and very excited also, so it’s no wonder she jumps up as soon as Mom is within reach! If Mom really wanted Fido to remain calm, she should speak in a low-pitched, slow, calm voice — softer than we’d use in talking to another human.
Why haven’t I told my mother about this? Well, I have, but she can’t seem to change 80 years of how she’s interacted with dogs. I now chose to try to manage the situation by keeping even more space between her and the dogs because constant reminders make Mom feel picked on and she won’t remember the next time. However, I have to bite my tongue when I hear, “You know better than that!” because the dog doesn’t. It is my hope that those of us still young enough to “learn new tricks” will work on our communication skills rather than continuing to blame the dog.