Originally written by E. Foley, www.foleysdogtraining.com
We have all seen the funny videos and animated GIFs on the internet of dogs doing crazy things (or crazy things happening around and to dogs). Dogs and children. Dogs and adults. Dogs and cats. Dogs and the vacuum cleaner. We pass these “funny” or “adorable” pictures and videos to our Facebook friends and pin them to our boards on Pinterest …but I’m here to encourage you to stop. It has to do with spoons. Did you know your dog has spoons? He does, and it’s a very bad thing if he runs out of them.
If you know anyone who lives with a chronic illness (physical or mental), you are likely familiar with Spoon Theory. If not, the gist of Spoon Theory is this:
Each morning, people with a chronic illness wake up with a certain number of spoons.
As a human, you know how to spend your spoons. Dogs don’t get to choose how they spend their spoons. We do. Every day, we make decisions for our dogs. We decide which path our morning walk will take. We decide whether we want them to “meet” that new dog in the neighborhood. We decide whether the little girl next door can come over and play fetch. We decide to hug and kiss them. We decide to let the toddler use the dog for a pillow, or worse yet, a horse.
How Many Spoons Does a Dog Have? A well-socialized, happy dog may appear to have unlimited spoons. A fearful or reactive dog may start out with only a few. My fearful dog, Titania, has greatly increased her spoon collection, thanks to classes at Your Dog’s Friend and the advice of Debbie Jacobs of www.FearfulDogs.com. Thanks to counter-conditioning and confidence building exercises, she enjoys a lot more of life than she did just two years ago. We remove a spoon from our dog’s collection every time we expose them to a situation that makes them uncomfortable.
The next time you see a popular video featuring a dog being squeezed, kissed on or being sat on by a child (anyone remember the baby bouncing on top of an extraordinarily tolerant Rottie?) pay attention to the stress signals these dogs are showing which can include:
- Stiff body
- Ears pinned back
- Whale eyes (wide eyes with lots of white showing)
- Leaning away
- Lip licking
- Lip curling
In just a few seconds, some dogs can shed their spoons left and right. What would happen if one of those dogs was already having a bad day?
Let’s say that a meeting on his morning walk resulted in getting snapped at by an unfamiliar dog. There’s construction going on next door and there are lots of loud noises and strangers in hard hats. And unbeknownst to his human, this dog ate something in the backyard and now his tummy is feeling upset. Now what happens when one of the people in those popular videos play the “kissy” game with their dog? Dog bites never come out of nowhere. The folks in those viral videos probably play this game to entertain friends all the time and have never been bitten. But if their dog was having that bad day described above and had run out of spoons … well, someone could end up with a bite to the face (as you have probably seen, some do!). And it would have been 100% their fault, not the dog’s.
A dog with plenty of spoons is a happy dog! As a dog parent, it’s your job to recognize the stress signals in your dog and keep them away from situations (or people) that cause them anxiety. For your dog, this may mean scheduling your daily walk at a time when fewer bicyclists are on the trail or leaving your dog home instead of taking her to the pet store with you. It could mean giving your dog “me time” when she can relax in her crate with a bully stick and not be interrupted by your children. Most importantly, it means being present with your dog and knowing when to remove him from a situation. A dog isn’t able to say, “Hey, I’ve got one spoon left and if this kid pulls my ear one more time, I’m done!!” You are your dog’s spoon-monitoring superhero, and your dog loves you for it.