WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins
WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins

"READING THE NEWSPAPER"

Sometimes you can even see the "writing" when it is frosty or has been snowing!

 

COMMUNICATION - "READING THE NEWSPAPER"
Although it is fairly obvious that dogs use body language and sound to communicate with one another, we often misunderstand how important scent is for communication between dogs and, to a lesser extent, other animals. Scent is a major factor in a dog's social development, not only as a puppy but throughout its life. Dogs communicate by leaving their scent in six different ways -

 

Urine*
Some dogs have got "weeing" off to a fine art! My 11 year old dog has always had amazing bladder control and will store up vast quantities of urine for over 12 hours so that he can urinate at various strategic places on his fairly long walks off-lead on the Malvern Hills (eg. Gateposts, specific trees or rocks, lamp posts etc). I only realised how much his bladder could hold when I took him to a training venue one morning and he realised that he was not going for a walk and proceeded to empty his bladder for 2 or 3 minutes so that he could concentrate on "working" with me in the training area.


Our young bitch, on the other hand, has a crafty trick of drinking from puddles and then urinating in them so that she leaves a "very big scent message" for the other dogs to sniff (but not necessarily drink from!).


It is interesting to note while working in Iceland I could see that the dogs happily dug their noses into the deep snow in order to smell the trapped scents underneath which had been left by other dogs before the snow fell.

 

Faeces*
Yes, dog "poo" is smelly, disgusting and a health hazard but every living creature has to get rid of its waste products somehow or other! However, dogs also use their faeces to act as another source of leaving their scent in the environment. Some dogs seem to enjoy analysing what the other dog has eaten by sniffing their faeces and can sometimes progress to enjoying the smell and taste so much that they eat the faeces.

 

* If a dog is unable to relieve itself outside its own house and garden, it is often a sign of its insecurity and anxiety as to its rank and status in the "dog world of scent " that it is walked in. I am always pleased to see a dog relieve itself when it comes to our Dog Games training for the first (and even subsequent) time as the dog feels relaxed and comfortable enough in the environment to leave a "message" for the other dogs to find (even though we clear the poo away, of course, after each dog has been trained!). This scent "message" also acts as a Rewarding Environmental Photo so that the dog recognises that it has been relaxed and happy in the training area the next time it comes, whether it be a week or even two or three weeks between visits.

 

Anal glands
These are situated either side of the dog's anus and produce a very smelly secretion with the faeces. This strong scent is another way for a dog to leave a "message" on the environment.

 

Scratching the ground
Some dogs scratch the ground after relieving themselves (with grass and leaves flying everywhere - and sometimes faeces as well!). Scratching and disturbing the earth, grass and other vegetation makes the "scent message" all the more noticeable and intriguing for any other dogs that come along afterwards.

 

Rubbing themselves against something
Just as cats rub themselves against objects to leave their scent behind, dogs sometimes rub themselves against boundaries, humans, furniture etc in order to leave their scent on them. They may also do this in order to rub and massage themselves as well - dogs love to be touched!

 

Pheromones
These are external chemical messengers that enable dogs to detect various emotional states of not only dogs but humans as well (see below). Pheromones help dogs to detect another dog's gender and sexual activity (eg. If a bitch ready to mate), levels of stress, fears or aggression, as well as calmness, relief, being relaxed etc. There is a very moving example of how pheromones effected two different dogs in very different ways in "Reggie" in the Our Dogs section of the website.

 

A dog's sense of smell is so acute, it is able to differentiate another dog's

  • Identity - is it friend, enemy, a newcomer or prey? If the dog considers the other dog as a friend and part of its pack, it will overmark the scent with its own so that both scents will merge to create a new "identity" but are still distinctive enough to indicate "more than one dog"  9ie a pack) to any other dogs that come across the scent.
  • Age (ie. puppy, juvenile, adult, or veteran) and therefore its rank or status not only in its "pack" but in the neighbourhood it lives or exercises. More assertive bitches (and dogs) mark more than submissive ones.
  • Gender - male or female, neutered or entire.
  • Emotional state and levels of stress - depressed, anxious, overexcited, happy, contented and relaxed. These are all detected through pheromones.
  • Health
  • Sexual arousement
  • What its diet consists of

 

I like to compare this sniffing to humans reading - hence my expression "reading the newspaper" - and the scents that they leave behind "writing on the newspaper"! It is a vital part of a dog's life that it is able to "read" and "write" as it enables the dog to communicate with other dogs without having to physically be there. What dogs find so rewarding and satisfying about "reading the newspaper" is that every dog's "scent message" will be subtly different from the ones it did the day before. They enjoy the mental stimulation of reanalysing the scents to search for these subtle changes.

 

A classic example of dogs "reading the newspaper" is when I return home after training and/or being near to other dogs. My three dogs take great delight and concentration in sniffing me (especially my hands and trousers) to find out everything they can about the dogs I came in contact or close proximity too.

 

Many dogs are also apprehensive about coming too close to another dog and enjoy communicating by sniffing the other dog's scent "messages" and leaving their own "message" for the other dog to smell later on. This "reading the newspaper" is particularly useful when introducing dogs to a new neighbourhood or training venue (see Where and When), as the dogs can learn a great deal about each other by sniffing each other's markings before actually meeting and displaying body language to each other.

 

Dogs can become very frustrated and/or lonely because of the huge gulf of misunderstandings and lack of communication between themselves and their human "pack" (see Lodgers) as the dog's calming signals are often misunderstood or ignored. It may be given sufficient physical exercise while being walked on a lead but not be allowed to sniff the environment and thereby stimulate its brain and fulfill its working instincts.

 

Therefore, detecting and analysing scents of other dogs can be even more important to these dogs who are starved of communication and welcome any type of contact with their own species. Dogs also leave their scent to mark the boundaries of their territory. This warns other dogs to respect these boundaries and not to trespass. This is often backed up with barking if dogs come too close to their territory.

 

LEADS
As you can see in these pictures, it can be very awkward and sometimes even painful for a dog to "Read the Newspaper" when it is on a tight lead, particularly when walking on a collar as it digs into the dog's throat hampering its breathing.

It is very frustrating to a dog to be so tantalizingly close to a scent that will satisfy its lack of mental stimulation, causing it to build up high levels of stress and frustration which will result later on in the day with a variety of different symptoms.

Allow your dog to walk on a loose lead (preferably at least 2 meters long) and then both you and your dog can enjoy walking together.

 

HUMAN EMOTIONS SUCH AS FEAR (and HAPPINESS)
Dogs are also able to detect the human's pheromones caused by stress, excitement, anger, anxiety or apprehension. This is why dogs become fearful or aggressive when they are close to humans that are nervous (often because the human has been bitten or frightened by a dog in the past). The dog recognises the scent of fear on the human and thinks that they are going to attack the dog, so it attacks first in "self defense". This is also true for dogs that are fearful of other dogs - they become "victims" and are attacked by other dogs because they can detect the fearful dog's pheromones either on the ground or in the air and believe that it will attack them.

 

One sad example of a dog picking up a human's apprehension was a dog I knew that became fearful and withdrawn whenever the handler walked down steep slopes while walking the dogs. The dog picked up the handler's fear of falling over and became worried as well, even though it did not understand why the situation was fearful.

 

On the other hand, dogs can also be positively affected by the scent of pheromones given off by emotions such as calmness, happiness and contentment. If humans feel relaxed and calm, their scent triggers similar behaviours in their dogs as well.

 

This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).

 

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