Onions, haunted houses, and behavior

Almost every time I chop an onion, my eyes get red and water and my nose runs…it’s  a lot.  I basically look like I’ve been ugly crying and it takes me a few minutes to recover even after the onion is put away.  

I was well into a good onion-cry while making dinner the other night and my husband, Matt, walked into the kitchen to talk to me.  I had my back to him so he couldn’t see my face until I turned around to face him, in search of a tissue.

 “Whoa, what’s going on?  Are you OK?” he asked me.  Then he sees the onions behind me and kindly offers to chop the rest of the onions.  Because he’s a nice guy and immune to the effects of onions.

I know I am not unique in my reaction to onions.  So, what does chopping onions have to do with dog behavior?

It is a reminder to focus on the behavior you see and refrain from attaching emotion to it (at least until you have more perspective and context).  

I wasn’t sad or upset.  My eyes were watering and my nose was running.  

In Lili Chin’s book, “Doggie Body Language” she describes how misreading dog body language can complicate life for dogs and their humans.  This book helps you recognize the subtle cues your dog gives that can be easily missed.

Not an ad. I just truly love this book.

Check it out.  It’s a great book and the illustrations are cute.  Get it.  Leave it out on your coffee table for all your guests to browse.  The world needs to know about this book. Well, at least anyone who interacts with dogs.

I digress…

What I want to encourage you to do is when you catch yourself saying your dog is happy, excited, afraid, frustrated, or aggressive, instead take a moment to observe the actual behavior you can see.  

Even if you are an expert at interpreting your dog’s body language, it’s a good practice to make sure you are staying sharp and picking up on all those subtle cues like lip licks and head turns.  

Lip lick (when food is absent) can mean your dog is feeling uneasy.

❌Rather than:  My dog is being an aggressive jerk to other dogs 
➡️ Try this:  My dog is lunging and barking at other dogs while on leash.  

❌ Rather than: My dog is an inconsiderate, embarrassing attention-hog when I have guests come over.
➡️ Try this:  My dog is jumping and mouthing at my guests.

❌Rather than:  My dog is protecting me from strangers that get too close
➡️ Try this:  My dog barks at strangers that get within 10 feet of me. 

❌Rather than:  My dog is happy because their tail is wagging
➡️ Try this:  My dog’s tail was wagging up high at a fast pace.

Why does this matter? You may be wondering.  Why do you need to pay attention to the behavior that you see instead of what your dog might be feeling or thinking?

Focusing on the behavior you see puts you on the path to:
🧐 Objectively observe behavior (see examples above)
🥸 Gather more science-based, non-biased info
🙋🏻‍♀️ Seek out help from a professional if needed
📊Form educated theories and training plans to address your dog’s behavior
✨Change how you interact and work with your dog.

It’s important because it changes how you respond.  

You understand that your dog isn’t being an aggressive asshole but more likely wants to create space because of he/she is feeling uncertainty or anxiety.

You understand your dog isn’t trying to be rude to your guests but rather is having trouble managing their excitement and self-regulating.

You understand that your dog isn’t likely trying to protect you from strangers, but rather fearful of the stranger getting too close.

You understand that a wagging tail does not necessarily mean a happy, confident dog.

You are able to better help your dog because you have a better understanding of their perspective.

That’s empathy. (Which is one of the 5 Steps of Emotional Intelligence. But that’s a post for another day).

You understand that punishing your dog for “misbehaving” is futile, and even damaging.   

You begin to meet your dog where they are at and help them overcome their emotions.  

You understand that your dog is experiencing fear, anxiety, uncertainty, frustration…all things we all have felt ourselves.  Those are big emotions.

And we may behave differently when those emotions are very intense. 

Case in point. I do not go to haunted houses (or watch scary movies, or go on haunted hay rides…) Because the fear is just so intense to me.  I know it is not real but it’s just not my idea of a good time. 🤷🏻‍♀️

No judgment if this is your thing! You are a brave soul with nerves of steel.

So yes, in a way we come full circle because now you do end up identifying emotions your dog is likely feeling. 

But now, we are doing so from a more objective, science-based, non-bias perspective. 

In a future post, I’ll be diving into the fear response in dogs that will give you further perspective and insight!

Tell me in the comments!
➡️ How has your perspective changed on your dog’s behavior?

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