Misreading the signals

whisperBy Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

The other day when I came to the office with Whisper and Mimsy, I was looking forward to getting a lot of work done. I had a marketing meeting in the morning, a podcast recording in the early afternoon, and conference calls sandwiched in between (not to mention my WiSTEM homework).  Before I had even settled in at my desk, Whisper decided to start barking. She barked at young mother walking by with a stroller. She barked at the UPS guy. She barked at the empty desk. She barked at her reflection. She had already done her business for the morning, she had been fed and watered, and it seemed to me that she was barking for no other reason than to keep me from getting my work done.

So what did I do? I got frustrated and raised my voice (more than once), which did absolutely nothing to stop the barking. Pretty soon everyone in the office was firmly asking her to stop, or trying to distract her with kissing noises, or just rolling their eyes and stuffing their earbuds in a little deeper.

Finally Paulette took charge of the situation and marched Whisper outside to see if that would break the pattern. As soon as she got to the nearest patch of dirt, Whisper peed a river (in spite of having done exactly that a half hour earlier). And then the entire office full of dog trainers felt a bit sheepish for 1) having misread the clear signals that she needed to use the facilities, and 2) getting irritated with her for it.

What is the moral of this story?

No matter how many years of dog experience you have, you’re still going to miss, or misread, the cues once in a while. You get distracted, then you get annoyed, and finally you get to the point where you are so aggravated that you aren’t seeing anything clearly because none of the usual triggers seem to be at the root of the problem.

But dogs aren’t robots – just because they did their business a half hour ago doesn’t mean they won’t need to go again, or that the noise which never bothered them before isn’t going to make them freak out on this particular day, or that the food they digested with ease for five years isn’t suddenly going to give them terrible gas during your investor meeting (there are occasional downsides to having dogs in the office). 

If you have dogs, all of these things will happen to you – whether you are a pet professional or not – and you just have to accept that you misread the signals, file the information away for future reference, and move on. For those of you who have aging or infirm dogs, the cues will change more rapidly. To read the signals correctly, sometimes you have to put aside what you expect the dog to do and act upon the information right in front of your nose.

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Want to learn more about canine communication? Check out our I Love Dogs badge and Canine Communication course; for an even deeper dive into all things dog, sign up for Behavior Fundamentals Online!

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