The Complex Emotions of the Dog

I just got back from a long trip to New York to visit with my family. It was a great trip, and we all had a wonderful time, but I couldn’t take my dogs along with me on a three day road trip with three small children in the car. So I did what most other folks do in such circumstances, and I brought them to my trusted friend’s excellent dog boarding kennel to stay while I was away.

Now, I have four dogs. All are happy and well adjusted, especially here at home. Two beautiful Australian Shepherds, Tinder and Ti, a doofus of an adolescent Bloodhound, Horton, and my wonderful Christmas Miracle ditch dog, Noelle. While I was gone, my dogs had the opportunity to play in a big yard with other dogs, they had plenty of cool off time in an air conditioned building, and three of the four of them did great. Noelle did not.

You see, from Noelle’s perspective, she had been ripped away from her home, her people, her children who she loves, and her safe space. The yard was different, my friend was not me, and, well, she was not home. She had no idea when or if she was coming home again. And she sort of lost it.

Noelle started to display behaviors that I have never seen here at home. While here she may be a little bit pushy with new dogs who come to visit, there she started to aggressively attack dogs right out of the gate, no warning, no posturing. Just a straight to the point, “I’ll get my licks in before they see I’m coming” attack style. She even began to growl and act the same way with Tinder and Ti, who she has known her entire life and lives peacefully with here at home. Noelle had to stay separated from even her own pack mates while I was away, for her safety, and for theirs.

When I came to pick my dogs up upon my return, Noelle was a tense and anxious mess of a dog. Not because of her surroundings, but because of her reaction to the circumstances. I got her out of her crate and had to re-introduce her to the dogs that she has spent her entire life with. Within a few minutes of posturing, she settled down, and it was as if I could see an actual sigh of relief. She knew she was going home. She knew things hadn’t changed completely, and that she didn’t have to be the toughest kid on the block anymore because I was there.

Now we are home, and Noelle is just fine. She’s back to her regular happy self, with no issues with aggression at all towards my dogs, or other dogs that she meets. Her reactions, I think, were purely because dogs are complex emotional creatures.

We humans rarely give dogs credit for the emotions that they feel and display, especially when we are, ourselves, dog trainers. Everything is a set of behaviors that can be modified. However, sometimes, just like with humans, those behaviors are rooted deeply in a dog’s insecurity, fear, and anxiety. Understanding that your dog has complex emotions is so important, especially when unexpectedly having to help them through a difficult behavior.

What emotions have you seen from your dog, and what behaviors are attached to them?

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