Dogs are not a complete enigma to us, they can be pretty easy to read when you understand how. To notice any changes in the way our dogs feel we can simply learn what those changes look like on the outside.
I’m going to use a comparative example here, just for the sake of understanding. So, here’s my disclaimer – this is intended as analogy, not anthropomorphism. Not that I mind a bit of anthropomorphism anyway, as Marc Bekoff says, “It’s OK to be anthropomorphic, it’s natural to do so, and critics are wrong to say we should never do it” (Canine Confidential published 2018).
Take a moment and ask yourself what it feels like to be totally neutral. You might be neutral now, as you’re reading this. Or you may have some kind of emotion going on. You could even be a little irked at my recent embrace of anthropomorphism, or you might even be relieved by it.
Neutrality is hard for humans because we have an extremely active mind. It’s always chattering on about something, and in comparison no-one knows what the dog’s mind is doing other than the dog. Ask yourself now, what you look like on the outside when you’re feeling neutral. It might take a little while, because often we don’t see ourselves, have a think about it anyway, when you have no strong emotion going on, what do you look like? What little behaviours or shapes does your face and body make?
Next ask yourself how your neutral look changes if you experience a strong emotion. If you become annoyed, how do you look on the outside? What does your face do? Do your muscles tense up and is it visible? What about when you’re sad? Does your face drop or screw up to try and stop tears? Or when you’re happy, does your entire face and body relax?
Knowing yourself in this way will help you to better understand what your dog or dogs you meet are experiencing, or how they are reacting to you along with other things in their environment. Every dog has a neutral stance and we know tried and tested signs of how they feel through much capable ethology (learning by watching). By learning the science of communication, and observing neutral in your dog you will know when they change on the inside, because they will show you on the outside.