Think you know what your dog really wants? You might not.
Dogs are incredibly agreeable creatures — they’re always happy to see you, and they put up with a lot from their owners. However, some common behaviors might be making your dog stressed or uncomfortable, even if that’s not your intention.
If you really want to make your furry best friend happy, there are a few specific habits you should always employ — and a few to avoid.
1. DON’T give your dog a hug
Your dog craves physical affection, and nothing feels better to him than a scratch behind the ears. But unlike humans, dogs don’t usually appreciate hugs.
A study in Psychology Today found pets can feel uncomfortable during a hug. “While we may think it’s sweet and comforting, pets often feel trapped and scared during hugs, particularly when humans pull pets into their faces,” says Erin Askeland, a pet behaviorist and training manager.
Next: This is the real reason your dog steals your underwear.
2. DO let him cuddle with your dirty clothes for comfort
Don’t be alarmed when your dog pulls your dirty underwear or socks out of the laundry hamper. He’s not being creepy — he just loves you.
A dog’s scent glands are 1,000 times stronger than a human’s. They communicate through smells rather than speech (which is why they sniff each other’s butts in greeting). Your dog enjoys feeling close to you by smelling your human scent on dirty laundry.
If you go on vacation, consider sending your pup to the kennel with an old T-shirt you wore to help him feel safe and secure during your absence.
Next: Give him a little peace and quiet.
3. DO offer your dog a quiet spot to nap
Even though your four-legged friend can sleep through the chaos of your daily life, that doesn’t mean his quality of sleep is particularly restful.
To help your dog enjoy a better nap, try situating his bed in a quiet, out-of-the way space where he can get the peaceful shuteye he deserves.
Next: Skip the doggy sweater.
4. DON’T dress him up in silly clothes
Of course your dog looks absolutely adorable in that fair isle sweater with matching booties, but in reality he doesn’t need clothing to stay warm. In fact, many dogs hate the feeling of wearing clothing and could become stressed from all those restrictive outfits.
If you have a tiny short-haired dog and the temperature dips below freezing, a dog coat or blanket is a good way to keep your little friend warm. But in general, the outfits are overkill for your dog.
Next: Belly rubs are a no-no.
5. DON’T rub your dog’s belly
“A lot of dogs roll over to be submissive, which shows insecurity and fear, and it is not a good time to rub the belly of a dog,” says Sara Taylor, director of animal behavior and training at the spcaLA. “As trainers, we only pet the belly when the dog is familiar to us, is initiating this contact for petting purposes, and is not scared or fearful.”
To show affection, try giving your dog a chest rub instead of a belly rub.
Next: He needs his own stuff.
6. DO give your dog his own stuff
Just like humans, dogs feel a sense of ownership for their items. Set aside specific toys just for your dog, and always keep them in the same spot so he can easily find them. His bed, food bowl, and blanket can also provide feelings of comfort.
Next: Don’t feel bad feeding your dog the same stuff.
7. DO feed him the same food all the time
You might think it’s boring to eat the same meal day in and day out, but this repetition is a good thing for dogs. Constantly changing their food flavor or brand could lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea or an upset stomach.
For a little variety, try giving your dog a treat every once in a while as a reward for good behavior.
Next: Keep his brain active.
8. DON’T forget about mental stimulation
Your dog can get bored just like you can, and he doesn’t have Netflix to keep his brain occupied during long stretches with nothing to do.
Pick up some puzzle toys that will keep your dog busy throughout the day. And be sure to rotate his favorite toys in with some new items every once in a while — just like you do with a small child.
Next: Let your dog use his nose.
9. DO let your dog sniff around
You probably noticed by now that walks with your pup take twice as long because he needs to sniff every little thing. That’s because dogs communicate through spreading their scent, usually by urinating. Every time you walk around the block, your dog is smelling the “messages” that were left for him by other dogs in the neighborhood.
Build a few extra minutes into your daily walk to let your dog smell everything he wants to. He’ll love you for it!
Next: Let him know who’s boss.
10. DO show your dog who the leader is
One of the first things you need to do with your dog is establish yourself as “leader of the pack.” Most dogs don’t want the responsibility of being in charge and would much rather look to you for direction.
Asserting your leadership over the family can also help cut down on bad behaviors from your pup.
Next: Stick to a routine.
11. DO make a routine and stick with it
A predictable, consistent routine will help your dog feel safe and secure. Try taking your dog for a walk and feeding him at the same time every day to avoid behavior problems, anxiety, and undue stress.
Next: No dog kissing allowed.
12. DON’T let them kiss your face
Yes, your dog licks your lips when you pucker up. But getting in your dog’s face can be intimidating for them, just like making prolonged eye contact is often seen as a sign of aggression. Your dog might be licking your face in an attempt to make you go away, not because he wants to “kiss” you.
Next: Mind your tone of voice.
13. DO speak in a soft voice
It doesn’t necessarily matter what you’re saying — dogs pick up on your tone and demeanor in an instant. Try to speak softly and calmly to your dog to keep them feeling relaxed. And reserve your stern or yelling voice for serious infractions.
Next: Give your dog space.
14. DON’T force your dog to make friends with everyone
Even if your dog is very friendly, that doesn’t mean she wants to be petted by every stranger who walks by. To test whether your dog wants to interact with a new person, have them crouch down to your dog’s level and stick out a hand to pet underneath her chin (not on top of her head). If your pup shies away, it means she’d rather be left alone.
Next: Avoid petting his head.
15. DON’T pet your dog on the head
You may naturally gravitate toward petting your dog on the head, but don’t be surprised when she turns away from your touch. Most dogs tolerate head petting, however they’d prefer being pet on their backs or right above their tails.
A hand extended in a dog’s face could be seen as an aggressive move. Stick to petting places other than the top of her head, so she doesn’t get stressed.
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