Dear Old Trainer: Thanks for that great tip on getting an old dog to eat. It never occurred to me that Daisy, our 10-year-old Brittany spaniel, could be pouting because she’s not getting enough attention. She loves Fanny, our 2-year-old Brittany, but I guess she decided she wasn’t getting her due. As soon as we started giving Brittany special attention, she started eating again.
– Rancie, Incline Village, Nev.
A: Dogs are such loving creatures, we forget how devious they can be, Rancie. They spend a lot of time pondering how to manipulate us, and Daisy came up with a shrewd way to get what she wants.
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, sweet, cocky, considerate and nostalgic.
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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 appreciating the emotional range of your dog, but that dog is watching you every second of the day, memorizing your routines and how you think. The reason so many people think their dog can read their mind is because their dog can read their mind.
Watch your dog even half as closely as she watches you and you become skilled at reading her mind. When I train a dog or place a rescue dog, the first advice I give the owner is always the same – keep an eye on your dog and learn all you can. A healthy and happy dog behaves the same way every day. If she changes her routine, it’s an attempt to tell you what is on her mind.
Not every dog chooses a harmless way to get her point across as Daisy did, though. Some become destructive, chewing up anything they can find. Some urinate 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 to you at first, but view it as an attempt to communicate and you have a better chance to understand what the dog is trying to say.
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.
It’s good news that Daisy was just pouting. The concern when an old dog changes her 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.