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Why Do Dogs Want To Get In Your Face
If you have been a dog owner for very long, you've experienced it. Your dog climbs up on your lap and presses his nose directly against yours.You wonder what in the world he is trying to communicate to you. Is this some strange form of canine nagging? Surely, there is a reason behind the behavior. There is no doubt that sometimes the things that our dogs do leave us scratching our heads and stifling a giggle. However, canine behavior is nearly always rooted in logic. Since dogs lack the ability to speak to us, they must use other means of communication to get their message across.This means that the various different modes our dogs use to interact with us are never without intent or meaning. It behooves us to become better at understanding precisely what our dogs are trying to tell us. When it comes to our dogs, "a kiss is never just a kiss." That kiss conveys an emotion, a want, or a need that our dog wants us to understand and fulfil. Yes, our dogs do talk! We just need to learn to improve our abilities to listen and properly decode their messages.
The Root of the Behavior
One of the most common canine phenomenon experienced by most dog owners is insistent staring. Many dogs follow their owners around from room to room.You can't even go to the bathroom on your own anymore! Wherever you go, you can expect Fido to be merely a few paces away at all times. Many owners assume that this sense of "followship" is rooted in loyalty and love, and there is no doubt that that IS part of the equation. But more to the point is the fact that your dog recognizes you as the source of all of the good things in his life, and he doesn't want to miss out on a single thing! After all, wherever you are is where all the fun takes place, so he's got to stay as close as he possibly can. This following around is often accompanied by meaningful direct stares. In the past, dog experts mistakenly interpreted this as a dog's way of challenging the authority of his owners, but this myth has long since been debunked. This behavior is sometimes seen in dog to dog interactions but never in a relationship between a dog and his beloved master.
When your dog stares imploringly into your eyes, he most definitely has a message for you. Staring is a means of gaining your undivided attention. You are the center of your dog's world, and his most cherished "possession." For you to engage with him is the most powerful reinforcer he knows. However, sometimes your dog wants more than just your attention. In your role as the giver of all good things, you possess the sole capability to give Fido what he wants and what he most often wants is food. Yes, dogs are opportunists. They know precisely what they need to do in order to get the result they want from you. Dogs carefully observe past behaviors and make note of patterns. If following you around and delivering intense stares has led you directly to the cookie jar in the past, Fido is going to keep trotting out this behavior until it no longer yields the result he wants any more.
Encouraging the Behavior
Of course, food is not the only thing on our dogs' minds. There is any number of things that Fido might be trying to elicit from you with his adamant stares. Perhaps it's the time of day when you would normally take him for a walk, or he notices a ball lying errant and unloved beside the chair you are sitting in. Fido's persistent staring might be his means of letting you know that in his estimation you are long overdue for a walk or game of fetch. It takes very little effort on our part to uncover the reason behind the stare. By simply asking your dog to "show you" what it is that he wants, he will often lead you directly to it. When it comes to food or play "on demand," you want to be careful not to give in to these manipulative tactics. Otherwise, this staring will become a nuisance behavior that is very difficult to break. It can also escalate to more annoying habits like incessant and shrill barking or even mouthing. You must instill in your dog that as the keeper of all good things, you dispense them at your own discretion and not as a result of Fido's bossy behavior.
But sometimes our dogs are communicating things to us that go far beyond simple wants to actual physical needs of importance. If your dog does not have free access to use the bathroom when he needs to, his staring might be his attempt to let you know that he is desperate to go outside to do his business. This type of staring is generally accompanied with pacing, pawing, and a frenetic behavior that tells you that something is wrong...or about to be wrong if you don't heed his warning signals. Some dogs attempt to stare into the eyes of their owners because they are seeking direction. This is very common behavior exhibited during training sessions especially if you are working on exercises that involve shaping. Shaping is a training tool where you offer clicks, food rewards, and praise when your dog offers you a behavior that you are seeking. It is a means of giving your dog a choice in the training process and is helpful to encourage voluntary participation. Some dogs offer behaviors quite readily while others become perplexed by the process. It is then that a dog would look to his owner for guidance. This is a very positive thing and should be encouraged.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Of course, dogs have a very different perspective of space limitations than we do. According to your dog, if a little bit close to you is good, then a LOT closer is even better. For the most part, dogs don't mind sharing their space. In the wild, this quality would have served our dogs well. After all, staying warm was a critical component of the wild dog's survival strategy, and the best way to do this was by cuddling up to littermates or other members of the pack. Some owners greatly dislike the loss of their personal space because it can interfere with important tasks they are trying to accomplish. It is difficult to put the finishing touches on an important piece of business correspondence if Fido has decided to lay across your computer keyboard! As with all behaviors, boundaries must be established for your dog, and consistency is key.
To do this, it is important to each Fido the "off" command. "Off" is a learned skill that is an important part of every canine's "trick" repertoire or should be. To teach the "off" command, you will need a clicker and some yummy treats. When Fido gets a little too close for comfort, you can then use your treat to lure him into the position where you would like him to rest while saying the word "Off!" Be certain to state the word in a firm, authoritative voice. It is not a question; it is a command, and compliance is expected. When your dog performs the required behavior, you can then click him, provide him with his treat, and lavish praise on him. It will take some time for Fido to truly grasp this concept then consistently deliver it when asked for it, but it will come over time.
Is Fido's staring getting you down? Take the time to teach him an "off" command. The "off" command allows you to take control of when it is okay for Fido to get up close and personal and when he needs to claim a space away from you. Keep your training fun and consistent, and Fido will soon learn there is a time to be close and a time to give you your space.
By a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Published: 03/26/2018, edited: 01/30/2020
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