DEAR OLD TRAINER: Your column on getting an old dog to eat was perfect timing. Bax, our 9-year old Malamute, suddenly started ignoring his food and it never crossed my mind he might be pouting because he was jealous. He loves Liz, our 3-year old Lab, but I guess he decided she was getting too much of the spotlight. As soon as we started giving him special attention he started eating again.
Dana, South Lake Tahoe
A: Bax deserves an extra treat for being so clever.
We get so much love from our dogs we forget how smart they are. They spend most of that brain power pondering how to communicate with us, and Bax came up with a shrewd way to let you know what he wants.
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When I train a dog or place a rescue dog the first advice I give the owner is always the same – watch the body language of your dog and you will see he is trying to communicate with you at all times.
Most people are convinced their dog can read their mind. In a way he can, but he actually is reading your body language. Your dog knows your body language so well he always knows how you feel and what you are thinking. Watch your dog even half as closely as he watches you and you become skilled at reading his mind.
When a dog suddenly changes a habit, no matter what the change, spend time analyzing what could have caused the change. It may be something as minor as a perceived lack of attention. It may be more serious.
Dogs have an emotional range as complex as a human and can be happy, sad, greedy, lonely, mad, temperamental, loving, depressed, aloof, empathetic, mellow, hyper, distant, concerned, guilty, conceited, sweet, cocky, considerate and nostalgic.
They also fake any of those emotions with ease if it is to their advantage to do so. They mirror whatever emotion their human feels, then change in an instant to reflect any change the human makes.
They dream vivid dreams, and have an imagination equal to most humans. They invent their own games and learn our games and never forget either. They pout and hold grudges if they think they are treated unfairly, but are the only animals on the planet, including man, who offer unconditional love.
You may not spend time studying the emotional range of your dog, but he is watching you every second of the day, memorizing your routines and how you think.
Not every dog chooses a harmless way to get their point across as Bax did, though. Some become destructive, chewing up anything they can find. Some pee on the bed. Some dig up the yard or become serial barkers.
Dogs are governed by canine psychology so the act may make no sense at first, but view it as an attempt to communicate and you will soon learn to understand what they are trying to tell you.
It’s good news Bax was just pouting. The concern when an old dog changes his routine is it may be a health issue. When an old-timer stops eating or shows any other major change, it’s a good idea to check with your vet.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.