Smoke and mirrors
Yesterday we had a great time at the park. We did our regular walk around, worked on some off leash recalls and then took a path out of the main park for some more off leash fun. Luke was beat, Elsa was just getting started (she goes in the afternoon for off an off leash run too) but we head back to the car and headed for home. Pulling out of the park road I noticed a little chihuahua type dog running towards us down the middle of the road. I immediately pulled over, stopped the car and jumped out. I knew this dog, Elsa and I had seen it often on her afternoon runs.
The dog looked scared, it's whole body said "I'm lost." I bent down in the road and called to it but there was no way this little guy was coming to me. He was scanning his environment, tail tucked completely under, body hunched and running. My attempt at coaxing him not only didn't work, he was growing suspiciously angry at me. I tried again with no success as he ran down the road past me.
I watched and was just about to get in my car and follow him when he ran into a driveway and turned around. He got on his biggest tough guy posture and let me have it. He was home, it made me smile. It was so clear that this driveway was his safe haven, there was just no way you could not see that this was his domain. It had changed everything. He now felt safe, ready to take on the world or at least this crazy lady trying to talk to him while out on his morning walk. But this morning he'd obviously gotten too far from his safety zone and he was freaked.
This little dog had needed his home turf to bring on his big tough guy act but many dogs try wherever they happen to be. The tough guy routine, Luke does it at the vets and surprisingly he is very convincing. We have been asked to muzzle him several times which of course I will not do. But you have to be very dog savvy to be able to see through it. If you pay close attention to the whole package you can see that it is an act. Luke is a love bug, he pretty much loves everyone but at the vets he is very nervous and tries to keep everyone at bay by growling and carrying on. Basically he tries to scare them and it works. When I refuse to muzzle and tell them that he will be fine in less than a minutes once in the room, they agree. And he is.
There is a fine line between bluff and being bitten. No one wants to be bit, not even me. Being bit can bring with it a great deal of fall out behaviors for the bitten, aside from the actual bite. So avoiding it is of course the goal. I've come close a couple of times, it was scary and touch and go at one specific juncture. As hard as a dog may bluff if you know what you are seeing you will know whether or not that dog is displaying an act or real behavior.
Dogs don't lie, but they sure do try sometimes. This is why it is so important to read a dog's body language. Dogs can seem like they are an aggressive monster when in fact they are simply playing. They can also seem as sweet as can be and bite as soon as you cross their invisible line. I was just telling my daughter a story about a Dalmatian at the shelter when I volunteered there. I had approached the kennel and the dog froze and gave me a hard stare. I went and told the official people there that the dog should only be walked with two people and to be very careful, it was aggressive. Of course they didn't listen and let a pregnant volunteer take the dog out alone one day. She had taken him for a walk and sat down on the curb beside him to chill, he took that as his opening and attacked her on the head. Pretty scary and something that could have been avoided completely.
The little dog running down the street was not a scary guy, he was trying very hard to look that way but his body held the truth to his true feelings. It can be tough but the more you watch the more you will understand. Much of what you see is smoke and mirrors.