Want to punch me yet? If you are still reading – thank you! My point, just to use my sledgehammer, is that dogs are sentient beings that have their ups and downs, just like us. At those times, we can’t expect them to be able to mind their manners as well as usual. Yet somehow we forget that, most likely because we are not as fluent in canine body language as we are in human body language. Certainly we forget with each other as well – who hasn’t been snapped at before realizing that the other person is in a bad mood? But then we apologize and treat the other person a little more gently. Dogs don’t share our ability for language. They may still be quite expressive or rather subtle in telling us how they feel.
The key is to read the nonverbal signals our loved ones – both human and canine – are showing and respond with respect. If you have kids in the house too, that might mean telling them to leave the dog alone for a while, or simply adding some separation between them. Most of our dogs are marvelously tolerant, and we should not test their limits.
What signals might Taz be giving you? Well, if he is not feeling confident, relaxed, or well, he might act disinterested in things he likes, or seem content to hang out in bed when normally he is a busy boy. His responses may be unusually delayed or carried out in slow motion, or he may act like he didn’t hear or see your cue. Perhaps he is suddenly attentive to something he would ordinarily ignore. If so, look for additional body language:
- Mouth closed tight or, conversely, stress panting or yawning out of context, tongue flicking in and out
- Eyes rounded, worried-looking with wrinkled brow, avoiding your gaze or looking at you but head is averted, especially with white showing around the iris
- Ears are angled sideways or back and down, not relaxed
- Head is lowered, back is rounded, dog looks smaller, more diminished, crouching
- Tail is lower than normal, maybe straight when normally the end has a curl, wag is small and tight instead of sweeping and loose
- Dog seems to avoid you or, conversely, offer appeasing gestures – raised paw, face or hand licks – for no apparent reason
Don’t necessarily be alarmed by one signal out of context; you need to look at the whole picture. If you do think Taz seems “off”, take your detective work a little further to be sure he is not actually sick – most dogs don’t readily show pain or illness. Once you’ve determined it’s not that, try a little quiet time together, or some no-expectation play. Again, if there are children in the house, some separation is in order – no matter what the cause of his behavior, give Taz a break. It might be just what he needs to feel more relaxed. Training, or interactions with younger family members, can wait until Taz is back to his usual spunky self.