Hello. My name is Sweetie. I would like to tell you my story. It’s a sunny day in August. I was just lounging around the house while my owner was watching the Olympics. Then, I saw her get up and move toward the door. Oh boy, I see my leash coming out from its hiding spot. Yes! That means that my wonderful owner is taking me out. I can’t contain myself. I’m excited! We’re going to have fun!
My tail is wagging with a big flagging wag, just higher than the level of my back, and my ears are up, but my face is soft. I am wiggling everywhere. My body language is saying that I’m happy to be going somewhere with my person. I sit and the leash is clicked on. We head out the door and into the car. Wahoo! I’m chilling in my crate with some toys and thinking to myself, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Finally, we park. I am up and alert with my ears up, but this time my face is not as soft. There are wrinkles between my eyes. My tail is wagging, but it is a slower wag and I am not wiggling near as much. I wait excitedly for the click of the leash on my collar so I can get out and begin to move and groove, but my body language tells my owner that I am a little tentative. I want to explore, but I am not sure what this place is about.
Finally! Here we go, out of the car. My owner says that we are headed to the Pet Expo, whatever that is. Wow, it’s really crowded in here. People are everywhere. My tail isn’t so high and wagging anymore. It’s starting to dip down below my back. I am still wagging it, but it is slower and lower. My ears are slightly back now and I am starting to pant. I lick my lips as I feel my stress level start to increase. People reach for my head to pet me as I walk by them. Why don’t they ask first? Maybe I don’t want to be petted. I mean, like people, but this place is crowded.
The longer we stay here, the more overwhelmed and stressed I become. My ears go back even farther, my tail is all the way down, and I am lagging behind my owner. She starts pulling me saying, “Come on, what’s wrong with you”? What’s wrong with me? I’m stressing. This is too much for me. Okay, I’ll keep walking, and try to be compliant. I start to scan the room, looking left and right in anticipation of anything scary.
Yikes! What’s that coming at me? It is small. Its face is eye level with me and it has flailing appendages…Oh no, it’s a kid! It’s approaching quickly, I’m stopping, pulling backwards, but too late, it’s right in my face, and its freaking me out. My tail is tucked so tight under my body that it could now be considered a diaper, my ears are flat back, and my head is lowered, my eyes looking up with the white showing. I’m going to try to jump up on my owner so I can feel more secure at a higher level.
That scary kid is still near me, getting ready to, oh no, reach over my head and pet me. My owner doesn’t understand what I’m trying to tell her. What’s that? She’s telling the kid its okay to pet me? She’s saying, “I’m friendly.” She is right, I am friendly, but right now I am scared. I don’t want to be petted. How can I make her understand? As the boy reaches over to pet me, I push my weight back onto the hind legs and duck my head down. I growl ever so slightly just as a warning. It’s too noisy in here, so no one can hear me. I let out a quick bark to let everyone know that I need some personal space. My owner pulls the leash back and tells me to stop. She’s apologizing to the people, saying “my dog doesn’t usually act like this.”
Back to the car I go. I am confused because I tried really hard to tell her and everyone around me that I was scared. I put my ears back, licked my lips, tucked my tail, lowered my head, showed the whites of my eyes, growled, and finally when no one got it, I had no choice but to bark. Then, and only then did they notice me.
This is not an uncommon story. The moral of the story is that understanding your dog’s body language is very important when taking your pet out into public. It could prevent unnecessary and undesirable learning experiences for your dog from occurring.