As many of you know, my dog Gunny changed my life in innumerable ways, both big and small. One of his greatest gifts was helping me to better understand a dog’s perspective about life with humans. I sincerely believe that our dogs teach us as much or more than we teach them if we’re paying attention. In order to understand what they’re saying, though, we really need to get in sync with them.
I bet every one of you trusts your dog’s instincts when they growl at a stranger on the street, right? You probably cross the street or turn a different direction. If your dog barks in the middle of the night, maybe you get up and have a look around, or stay awake quietly listening to see if you hear anything yourself. Do you find that your dog senses when a friend or family member is feeling down, and gravitates toward the person in the room who could use a nuzzle? You might not have even noticed your friend’s low energy, but your dog did.
For all these reasons and more, I trust my dog. I trust him to notice things I might not, and to communicate honestly with me about what he sees, hears, and feels. He’s my partner in this life and he wants the best for him, just as I want the best for him.
For example, every morning I make a cup of coffee and then bring it back to bed and watch the morning news. Beau never gets up when I first go to the kitchen because he knows I’m not going to make his breakfast yet. Coffee for Mom first! When I finish that cup and head to the kitchen again he knows it’s breakfast time, so he follows me down the stairs and hangs out near his bowl. If Beau were to follow me to the kitchen when I first get out of bed, he’s telling me something. Maybe he needs to go to the bathroom, or is extra hungry, or maybe he’s worried about something downstairs. The small action of getting up the first time I do is communicating something because it’s a break in a well-established pattern, so I know to pay attention and ask myself, “What’s he telling me?”
If you look at your dog as a smart and savvy partner, you’ll notice these cues more. Closely observe your dog’s behavior and patterns. If you can, spend quiet time with him or her every day just “being.” Talk to them. Make eye contact if that doesn’t make them uncomfortable. They’ll sense the change in your attention, and you may find that they try even harder to communicate with you in whatever way they can. I know for sure they’ll feel more respected and trusted and it will improve your relationship.
I’m sure many of you have had amazing experiences where your dog was leading you, not vice versa. Please tell us all about it!