Did the dog get up on the wrong side of the bed?

Pedadoggy has been quiet this last week as I have been sick, cursed with a winter weather lurgy. All the sitting around and feeling sick reminded me of a story that took place in our house one morning some time ago before I’d studied dog behaviour and training.

“Hello Mopey Dog,” The Husband says to The Dog. “Are you cross today?”.

I look up from the couch. The Husband is crouched next to the dog’s bed, giving him a scratch in his fall-time favourite place – under his chin. Where usually Zac’s tail would be thumping its enthusiastic morning greeting, it twitches twice then lies still.

His eyes slowly track The Husband as he heads to the kitchen to put on the kettle, after which the littlebrown creature settles back down to sleep. Only the mention of the word “ball” gets him bouncing up and down and ready for some chasing action.

Later that morning Zac refuses to look at his breakfast and I find myself telling him that there are many other dogs in the world who would give both of their front fangs for a meal of imported, New Zealand green-lipped mussels and venison.

It’s only when I almost go sliding through a puddle of vomit at the front door that I realise I’ve missed some pretty obvious signs. Zac wasn’t cross. He wasn’t upset at something we’d said or done, or hadn’t done. He wasn’t feeling well. That was all.

It reminded me how easily we are tempted to overlay human emotion onto our dogs. How often do you hear people calling their dogs “stubborn” or “lazy” or “disobedient”?

The fancy word for this is ‘anthropomorphise’ – attributing human features to something. But what signs are we misinterpreting? Which ones are we missing entirely?

Dog body language is complex and much has been written on it. Us mere humans easily miss the cues dogs give, especially the more fleeting and subtle ones such as a flick away of the eyes or a quick lip lick when they are nervous. We incorrectly attribute how we would be feeling on their behaviours, or rather the ones we choose to notice.

Zac remains waggingly healthy (and I’m getting there) but the experience reminded me that we need to read between the lines, notice the signs and put our own humanity aside when interpreting our dogs’ more subtle non-verbal communication. And no, the dog did not get up on the wrong side of the bed.

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