Boost Your Dog’s Confidence

Shy dogs can be like shy people: They are fine in familiar circumstances and with familiar people, but may become anxious and even defensive when exposed to strange dogs and situations.

Scientists believe there is a genetic component to an individual’s behaviors and emotions, so it’s true that some dogs are just born shyer than others. But often the behavior sets in when the dog is a puppy. The disposition to be shy can affect interactions with littermates. Shyness could also emerge if the puppy is removed from its mother too early or if the dog is not properly socialized.

In the extreme, shy dogs may run from people, other dogs and certain places or things. They could even snarl, growl or bite because they feel threatened and become defensive. It’s especially important to address such issues in breeds with a history of being aggressive, since shyness and this defensive reaction could prove to be a deadly combination for both the dog and others.

Jennifer Bridwell, author of the book The Everything Dog Obedience Book: From Bad Dog to Good Dog -- A Step-By-Step Guide to Curbing Misbehavior, advises that you first have your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Sometimes underlying health issues, such as thyroid problems, can cause your pet to be more anxious and jumpy.

It’s then important to take steps to socialize your dog. Slowly introduce your pet to new people and places, offering verbal praise and small food rewards for good behavior. If you have a purebred, contact local clubs for the breed to get advice from others who have experienced similar problems with their dogs. Reinforcing training commands can also be a comfort for your pet. You are essentially giving it a toolkit on how to react under different circumstances. It will always be more challenging to work with a dog that wasn’t adequately socialized as a puppy, but the end result -- a happier, calmer, better-behaved pal -- is worth the extra effort.

What Makes a Dog Yawn?

Yawns are “contagious,” meaning that if you see someone else yawn, you are more likely to yawn too. Dogs may do this as well, and not just after seeing another dog yawn. If you yawn and your dog is nearby and paying attention, there is a good chance that it will stretch and enjoy the extra inhale/exhale.

There are many different theories as to why people, dogs and other animals yawn, not to mention why this behavior is contagious. Compelling evidence suggests that yawning helps cool off the brain. Similar to the fan turning on in your computer when it reaches a certain temperature, it’s thought that the brain may need extra air during particular times and situations.

“Brains are like computers,” says Andrew Gallup, a researcher in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. Gallup led a study concerning yawning that was published a few years ago in the journal Animal Behaviour. He adds that brains “operate most efficiently when cool, and physical adaptations have evolved to allow maximum cooling of the brain.”

Since you and your dog share the same living environment, it makes sense that your pet would copy your yawning. This copying likely happens as a sort of knee-jerk reaction, just like you might yawn when a co-worker does, not even thinking about your behavior.

Another theory is that yawning shows empathy and therefore helps build social connections. A recent study conducted at Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University determined that chimpanzees yawn more after watching familiar chimps yawn, as opposed to watching strangers.

“The idea is that yawns are contagious for the same reason that smiles, frowns and other facial expressions are contagious,” write researchers Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waal. “Our results support the idea that contagious yawning can be used as a measure of empathy, because the biases we observed were similar to empathy biases previously seen in humans.”

Although the Yerkes study focused on primates, findings could most likely apply to dogs as well, since they also exhibit contagious yawning. So the next time you let out a good, relaxed yawn, take a look at your dog and see how it reacts. If your dog yawns, it’s a good sign that your pet is paying attention to you and is working to maintain a connection.

Feng Shui … For Dogs

“Fido Feng Shui,” as it’s sometimes known, has an increasing number of followers. Feng Shui is an ancient system based on the belief that the flow of chi, or energy, permeates both our inner selves and the environments that we inhabit. It has to do with the art of placing objects appropriately to improve overall well-being.

Feng shui can take on a spiritual approach, or it can simply be considered from an interior design standpoint. There is no question that certain spaces make us feel better due to the lighting, furniture, color schemes and more. Dogs also respond to all of these elements, so they too can potentially benefit from feng shui practices.

Wendy Nan Rees and Kristen Hampshire, authors of the Dog Lover’s Daily Companion: 365 Days of Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Living a Rich Life With Your Dog, offer the following tips:

  • Don’t place your dog’s bed under a window or in a corner. Chi could stagnate in such spots, say Rees and Hampshire.
  • There shouldn’t be any water elements where the dog sleeps, since they could disturb rest, according to feng shui beliefs.
  • Don’t place your dog’s bed directly across from an open door at the end of a long corridor. Feng shui holds that chi could flow away from the bed and out the door too quickly.
  • Don’t put heavy objects above or behind your dog’s bed.
  • Minimize usage of mirrors, which reflect light and could frighten your pet.
  • Avoid using bedding that is made of synthetic fabrics.
  • Put your dog’s bed against a solid wall away from any doors that could swing open.
  • Consider placing your dog’s bed on the opposite side of the house from the active front door or garage.

Some of these tips are based on common sense. Heavy objects, such as lighting, shelves or cabinets, shouldn’t be placed behind your dog’s bed in case they fall. There’s also a sense of awareness that we have around such objects. If you are standing under a heavy bookcase, for example, part of you might be concerned about it toppling over. Dogs may not have such a worry, but they would perceive the bookcase and therefore be affected by it in some way.

Feng shui also seeks to maintain balance in life. You are probably familiar with the terms “yin” and “yang,” which represent opposite extremes. It’s just one belief system of many that, for followers, can help make life a bit more pleasant and harmonious for people and their pets.

Best Dog Breeds for a Busy Schedule

All dogs require a certain level of commitment. It’s important to consider whether or not you can meet the needs of any dog, regardless of the breed.

It sounds like you are good on at least three points. You live alone, so you won’t need to worry about consulting with other roommates. You are working, so hopefully you can afford the food, medical care, licensing and other things a dog requires. The ASPCA estimates that the annual cost of owning a dog runs between $580 and $1,000. Of course that can go even higher, depending on variables such as the size of the dog.

Dogs that are low-maintenance in terms of grooming would ease up your already busy schedule. They are also recommended for people who suffer from pet allergies, since these dogs tend to shed less. According to Steve Duno, author of the book Be the Dog: Secrets of the Natural Dog Owner, such dogs could include the following breeds: boxers, pugs, greyhounds, whippets, pointers and beagles. Terriers and poodles don’t shed much, but they do require regular haircuts.

The personality of the dog is key, however. Some breeds, like the Maltese, crave near-constant human companionship. That can be a good thing for owners who desire the trusted, reliable company of a devoted dog. In your case, unless someone else can step in to help care for your pet during the day, such an affectionate dog might become depressed while you are away working. Any dog, though, would appreciate daily exercise from a dog walker or another helper, so you might factor that into your scenario.

If you’re open to dogs other than purebreds, I recommend adopting a mixed breed from a shelter. It’s just been my experience that mixed breeds tend to be easygoing, often having a good balance of characteristics. Each individual dog is different, so you can spend a bit of time getting to know the personality of the individual dogs and speaking with the shelter staff about your needs.

How to Determine a Dog’s Strength

According to a recent study in the journal Behavioural Processes, it’s possible to predict the strength of a dog, as well as its speed, just by looking at the dog’s head. The reason for this is that physical performance is constrained by trade-offs between structure and physiological features.

Project leader William Helton, who is a senior lecturer in the University of Canterbury’s Department of Psychology, explains: “In the real world, it would be hard to be both fast and efficient at running, and to be extremely strong in combat at the same time. Nature does not allow unlimited budgets, and the trade-offs are often physical constraints.”

As a result of these physical indicators, just looking at the size, width and basic shape of a dog’s head can then inform you about the dog’s strength and ability to run. In general, the more broad-headed a dog is, the stronger it is likely to be, according to Helton. More narrow-headed dogs tend to be speedy runners.