Tag Archives: living with dogs

Close-up of a black Brussels Griffon dog's face to illustrate don't stare at dogs

Don’t stare at dogs

Gazing into each other’s eyes is a great way to connect with your dog. But it has to be your dog. Meeting a strange dog’s eyes can be seen as threatening, intimidating, or even cause for aggression. Unless it’s your dog, just don’t stare at dogs.

Sometimes, it’s not even a good idea to stare at your own dog. One of the exercises we practice in competition Obedience requires the dog to stay for a minute, with you six feet away at the other end of the leash. Some dogs need constant eye contact to maintain the position and reassure them that they’re doing fine. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve trained dogs that would move immediately if you made eye contact. For those dogs, we spend a lot of time looking at the space between their ears. We could see what they were doing, but weren’t looking directly at them.

Stranger danger

That’s one of the ways we developed the technique of looking indirectly at dogs we’re just meeting. It seems contradictory that an animal who considers butt-sniffing the height of polite greetings will take offense if you meet their eyes. But there you have it. 

When meeting a dog for the first time, it’s a good idea to look slightly to the side until they have a chance to get used to you and relax. When we meet dogs who are considered reactive or even aggressive, we try not to look at them at all. Instead, while we chat with their people, we randomly throw treats in front of the dog, never looking directly at them. It’s a good way to defuse the problem before it even happens. 

They started it

Close-up of a black Brussels Griffon dog's face to illustrate don't stare at dogs

It’s kind of funny to us that people can get defensive about iffy encounters they’ve had with dogs. Maybe the dog was staring at you. That doesn’t mean you have to stare back! Ages ago one of our dogs (Whimsy, pictured, a black, smooth Brussels Griffon) was absolutely fascinated by a friend of ours. He would stare at her for as long as she was with us. We would joke about her being “Whimsy TV.”  She’d never done anything negative to him, other than pet him on top of his head, which he loathed. Apparently he decided he had to keep a wary eye on her for the rest of his life. 

Because dogs are all unique, there’s no single good way to train. One of the first exercises in most basic obedience classes is to get the dog to “Watch!” As soon as the dog meets the owner’s eyes, the dog gets a reward. For most dogs, this is a fun game and they learn quickly to stare into their people’s eyes non-stop. They wind up walking almost sideways, trying to maintain eye contact.

But it’s not always the case. Apparently herding dogs, like Shelties, use their stares to get the job done. They intimidate the heck out of whatever they’re herding by staring at them. When we had a Sheltie in class, he was the least confident dog in the house and the other dogs kept him cowed by staring. When the owner tried to teach the dog “Watch!” the poor little guy was terrified. It wasn’t the right match for this team. 

Know your dog

There’s a saying in dog training that you have to “train the dog in front of you.” That translates into accepting your dog for who they are and adapting to your dog’s preferences. If your dog likes meeting your eyes and finds the direct contact reassuring, go right ahead. If, like the little Sheltie, they think it means they’re in trouble, then avoid doing it. 

Funnily enough, the same dogs who avoid eye contact also seem to hate posing for pictures. We’re not sure that dogs recognize a camera lens (or back of a phone) as another eye looking back at them. But we think it’s interesting that they seem to know. 

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Picture of a Brussels Griffon to illustrate pick your dog battles.

Pick your dog battles

When most people plan on getting a dog, they imagine what life will be like. They decide on rules for the dog, where it will sleep, when it will go out, who’s going to do what dog chores, who’s going to train the dog. Then real life happens when your dog arrives home. And you realize you have to pick your dog battles.

This week we read a humor column from a writer in The Trentonian who laid out in detail why, despite his wife’s contrary wishes, he would never allow their dog to sleep in bed. Most of his reasons were based on hygiene concerns. We’ll concede that dogs aren’t the cleanest creatures on the planet. The funny part was the last line (spoiler alert!) “Maybe I’m a Grinch, but there’s no way I am sleeping in the same bed as a hairy, snoring, drooling animal. I have no idea how my wife does it every night.

Reality takes over

The fact of the matter is that your dream dog is just that – they live only in your dreams. Your actual dog has a personality. There are things they like, things they don’t, and a vast array of creative naughtiness that you never imagined until they came home. 

A friend of ours is a good example of expectation vs. reality. Her latest dogs would invariably grab anything out of the bathroom wastebasket and strew used tissues around the house. She couldn’t quite bring herself to let them “win.” So instead of just removing the wastebaskets from the bathrooms, she grabbed everything in the wastebasket as soon as you were out the bathroom door. Once we caught on to what she was doing, we took our bathroom trash to the covered kitchen container ourselves.

Picture of a black Brussels Griffon to illustrate dog battles

One of our absolute dog rules has always been that the dogs must be housebroken. No messing in the house, ever. The only exception would be if the dog was sick. Other than that, the first order of business for every dog on arrival was potty training. It worked for us. And then Tango became an old, wobbly dog who doesn’t always really know when he has to eliminate. So the rules adapt. All dogs must be housebroken except Tango, who we cheerfully clean up after. 

No guarantees

Nobody really has the classic, happy family illustrated by Norman Rockwell. Everybody’s life is a bit messy, a bit disorganized. And some days are definitely smoother than others. No dog is really Lassie, or even Snoopy. But for most of us, the reality is even better than we could have pictured. Because until you know the unconditional love of a dog, you don’t know how precious it is. Until you’ve connected so you’re totally in sync with another being, you can’t even imagine what it’s like. 

If there are absolute lines you don’t want your dog to cross, you have to be not only willing to take the time to teach them, you also have to enforce them. And that’s why you have to pick your dog battles carefully. And decide if it’s a battle worth fighting.

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A black, rough Brussels Griffon dog with a gray beardlying down to illustrate dogs are inconvenient

Dogs are inconvenient

Dogs are really inconvenient. There are so very many accommodations you have to make in your life.

You have to go out in all kinds of weather. Even if you’re sick. You always have to watch where you step. Even if your dog isn’t in the way, you know there are toys and chews lying around. And you have to schedule around your dog’s needs.

Planning the day

Just today, after all the morning routine stuff (take the dogs out, feed the dogs, have breakfast, wash Tango’s face/beard, play training games with the dogs) before we could get around to the house cleaning chores we planned, we had to think about what to do about the dogs. 

The first step in our deep-cleaning plan was vacuuming  Quite a few years ago, we thought it was funny that Dax’s mortal enemy was the vacuum cleaner. Hope’s first Frenchie attacked it every time it came out. Until the day she broke a tooth and needed surgery. Since that day, we play “better safe than sorry.” The dogs are crated when the vacuum comes out.

It’s not a big deal, since the dogs love their crates. Actually, they love their special “crate goodies,” but it’s the same result. They dash to their crates when they see us reach for their “only in the crate” treats.

But it is something we have to think about. Before we plan doing anything, either at home or outside, we have to think “what about the dogs.” 

Planning ahead

Parents of children and dog owners have the same obligation to plan ahead. It’s easy to be impulsive when there’s no one at home that needs to be walked, or fed, or needs medicine. 

A black, rough Brussels Griffon dog with a gray beardlying down to illustrate dogs are inconvenient

It’s a huge consideration when you have either a puppy or an old dog. Both have time limits on their bodily functions. Tango is 14 now, so we’re always checking calendars and coordinating schedules. Fortunately, he still remembers his training, but we don’t want to push our luck.

Dog owners always have to weight the possible consequences of their actions. It’s fun to meet up with friends at the end of the day. But what does that do to the dog schedule? And are you willing to face the consequences if you lose track of time?

Worth every bit of it

As we sit writing, one dog is snoring on the chair across from us, another is snoozing in the dog bed by our feet. And these are the moments that we feel sorry for anyone who thinks dogs are too inconvenient. Just looking at them warms our hearts. If you’re having a good day, it’s great to share it with your dog who loves you unconditionally. And if you’ve had a crappy day, it’s great to share a cuddle with your dog who loves you unconditionally. 

Basically, having a dog is pretty terrific. Even if dogs are inconvenient. 

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Resolve to Live Like A Dog

New Year’s resolutions are on the agenda today. Ours is simple – to live more like a dog! We all love dogs, but rarely do we see them as role models. But they have lots of good lessons for us:

Relax whenever you can

Picture of a puppy sleeping to illustrate Live Like A Dog

Dogs really know how to relax. They don’t worry about how they look, where they are, or who may be watching. When they’re tired, they sit, or lie down. In many cases, the spot they choose may be right in the middle, on top of you, or where you were intending to go – but they don’t care. That’s the spot they’ve chosen and they claim it. More often than not, they’re either in the way or on you. And how many times have we decided not to get up, because we don’t want to disturb the dog? Especially when they look so darn cute.

Enjoy your food

Four Golden Retriever puppies eating to illustrate Live Like A Dog

We confess. Sometimes we give our dogs treats just because they look so cute chewing. They always eat with gusto, as if what’s on the menu is the best food ever made by the top chefs in the world. They don’t care that it’s the same stuff they ate yesterday. And the same stuff they’ll eat tomorrow. They love it!

Don’t worry about the mess

A small dog with dirt all over its face to illustrate Live Like a Dog

When you’re having a good time, it doesn’t matter if there are clean-up consequences later. Don’t let that mud puddle stop you from playing. And if you want to explore under that bush – go ahead and check it out. Try being spontaneous and going where your curiosity takes you. 

Use all your senses

White and black dog sniffing a snail to illustrate Live Like A Dog

Dogs are always curious about the world around them. They can sniff the same spot every walk, every day, and still find it endlessly fascinating. When was the last time you took a good look around when you were out and about? Were there clouds in the sky? How beautiful was yesterday’s sunset?

 Live in the moment

That’s the most important lesson of all from dogs. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They don’t worry at all – unless you’re late with their dinner. Dogs live in the moment. They’re ready to have fun at a moment’s notice. They don’t plan and strategize – they take advantage of all the fun life has to offer. Whether it’s a walk, a tummy rub, a training game, or just a snuggle on the couch – chances are your dog’s all in, every time. It may not work for people all the time, we have responsibilities. But just sometimes, wouldn’t it be nice to live like a dog?

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