People frequently ask me for advice about their dog or their friends’ dogs’ behavior. I don’t mind and I really want to help but it’s not so easy to give accurate information without more details and a first-hand look at the situation. It’s also irresponsible to give advice without more information. Just the other day, a friend emailed me that her friend recently started dating a man and whenever they hug, her dog barks at them. She wanted advice to give her friend. How would you answer this request?

Behavior issues can be complicated and require knowledge not only of dog behavior but more importantly, people behavior. Unless you have education and experience, it can be tempting to give advice without looking further into the situation. In this case of the dog barking at the hugging couple, my first question back to them would be – what do you do when the dog barks at you?  This is such a key question because dogs are usually reacting to our actions. Are they yelling at the dog when he barks? Ignoring him? Giving into him and not hugging??!!   Each one of these scenarios can result in a very different behavior from the dog and different advice from me.

Do you find yourself giving behavior advice to others? Be very careful, for what worked for you and your dog may not be the right solution your friend’s dog. My neighbor has a small but mighty Chihuahua who growls and snaps at other dogs. She was telling me that another neighbor told her to jerk the leash and scream “No!” to the dog. It worked for the neighbor’s dog but obviously wasn’t working for the Chihuahua. She was biting for my dog’s nose as we talked. While I would NEVER give this kind of punitive advice, the reason it worked for the neighbor’s dog was probably due to personality differences in the dogs. Softer, more mild-mannered dogs can be scared into stopping some behaviors while stronger-willed dogs will feed off of punishment and get worse.

Dog behavior and human behavior is not black and white. There are so many factors to consider. It’s a lifelong learning experience with every dog teaching us something new.  It’s humbling yet lots of fun!