Category: Relationships

Why do dogs bark?

“I have a small female dog and she barks often for no apparent reason,” writes Jacques Hache in Gatineau, Quebec. “Can The Globe tell me, why do dogs bark?” The Globe’s resident dog lady and Canada Q&A editor Amberly McAteer has your answer:

Dogs are adorable weirdos: Mine eat my socks, chew on each other’s faces, roll in anything that smells terrible.  But barking for no reason is not a dog trait I’m personally familiar with – so I called in the expert: Jeff Cooke, president and head trainer at Bark Busters Canada, an international company that specializes in dog training and therapy. “Asking why a dog barks is like asking why a child cries. There are a million possible reasons,” Cooke says from his office in Squamish, B.C. Typically, he says, a dog bark is meant to alert the pack. “It most often means there is something strange or alarming going on here, and you should know about it.”

Barking when the doorbell rings is a great example: “Your dog is saying someone is here, and we should decide if we want to let them in.”

Cooke recommends studying your dog’s body language at the time he barks – it’s a much better indication of how he’s feeling at the time. A bark to indicate an alert, or fear, or play all use very different body language.  “If he’s upset, you’ll see hair on the back of their neck, ears go up, look more aggressive and bark in a high shrill,” Cooke says. But it’s completely different body language when he’s playful, and barking a squirrel up a tree.

But in your case – if there are no strange noises,  new people on your doorstep, or any thing that looks like fun prey, Cooke says your dog is likely barking to get some attention. He recommends ignoring the bark until it stops – and then paying attention to your pooch. “Don’t react in the moment –  it’s like a kid in a cereal aisle,” he laughs. “If you cave in the moment, they know they’ve got you.”

“Dogs spend a lot of time studying our actions – they watch us and try to figure out what relationships they can build. So they start to figure out if they do this the focus can be all about me.” Your canine pal LEARNS quite quickly that when he barks, it gets your attention off THE television and onto HIM.  Cooke says he had a client who works from home, and every time she answered the phone, the dog would start barking. “That sounds funny – but if you’re trying to conduct a business, it’s embarrassing.”

It’s best, he says, to bring a dog behaviorist into your home, so you can be sure. “Every case is going to be different, but you’ve got to get the incessant barking under control. Even for dog lovers, that’s going to get annoying quick.”

Give your dog all the love and attention he deserves – but do it on your terms, when he’s silent.  “That way he’s getting your attention, but he’s not in control. Everyone wins.”

Follow Amberly McAteer on Twitter, and for more reading: Dogs are people tooMy rescue dog is perfect – How long will the honeymoon last? and Science confirms it: Your dog’s emotions are written all over its face



How can I convince my parents to buy me a dog?

“How can I convince my parents to buy me a dog?” asks young reader Olga Rapita in St. Catharines, Ont.  What may seem like a trivial question is actually quite serious: Dog ownership and the careful art of negotiation are both matters not to take lightly. Canada Q&A Editor (and former dog columnist) Amberly McAteer called in the big guns:

To get what you want in life – whether it’s a dog or a promotion – skillful negotiation is everything. I called Michael Erdle, a professional arbitrator in Toronto, where he teaches Powerful Negotiation Skills at the University of Toronto. I asked him your question, and he chuckled – this isn’t the kind of disputes he deals with on a day to day basis. “But actually, this is a perfect situation for learning interest-based negotiation.”

When your parents say no, your reaction, he says, might be impulsive: “It’s easy to say, well Sarah’s parents just bought her a dog! That’s not going to get you anywhere,” Erdle says. Instead, “find out what needs to happen in order for us to get a dog – and that language is important. Be sure to speak in terms of ‘us’ and not ‘me.’ You want to be on the same team.”

Erdle says you should truly listen to your parent’s reasoning, then take it away for careful consideration.  “If someone in the family has allergies – come back with a list of allergy-friendly breeds of dogs.  If expense is an issue, come back with a plan as to how you will help contribute to ongoing costs. If sharing the responsibility is an issue, come back with a realistic plan of how you will help and when.”

Then, when you have your case lined up, approach them again – and speak with open-ended questions. “Say ‘Why not this’ or ‘what’s wrong with plan’ and ‘how could we make this schedule work’, Erdle says. “That way, it’s not yes or no response – you’re forcing them to acknowledge the specifics of your case.”

This process is the outline for any successful negotiation, Erdle says. “Really listen and find out what the objectives really are, and then be prepared to answer those objections in a skillful way. Then it gets harder and harder to say no, doesn’t it?”

Erdle’s final tip: if you’re successful, know that you have to live up to whatever promises you make. “If you break your word now, how will your parents react if you start asking for a later curfew?”

Beyond the negotiation process, I recommend deciding two things before you approach your parents:

1) What breed of dog is best for you and your family? It’s easy to be swayed by cute-factor alone, but dogs come in so many shapes, sizes, energy-levels and needs. You’ll want to have a good idea of what traits a specific breed (or mix of breeds) a new family member will bring: a Jack Russell is going to be a very different addition than a Great Dane. (The former has much more energy he’ll need to burn off – and the latter is actually a pretty great dog for smaller spaces.) And after that, know that every individual dog will have different energy levels – so be prepared to meet a few, before you settle on your match. (Read what TV dog guru Cesar Milan told me about dog breeds, energy levels and finding the perfect dog.)

2) Where is the best place to find your dog? Once you have an idea of breed, begin an online search for an adoptable dog that fits your requirements. I found my perfect dog – a medium-sized, lower-energy boxer named Ruby (conveniently the adorable pooch in the photo of this article) – on a website called PetFinder, a huge online database of animals in need of a home. I had many ill-conceived notions of rescue dogs, before I stepped into a shelter (“I… assumed rescues automatically came with a long list of behavioural issues,” I wrote) But believe me when I say that the love of your life – with little to no serious issues – could be waiting for you there.

Good luck: If you’re a prepared, well-researched and successful negotiator, you’re in for one of the most rewarding friendships you’ll ever know.

For more reading: Should I buy a purebred or a rescue pup?

I’m a single woman in my mid-20s. How should I wade back into the dating pool?

Savannah in Edmonton, Alta., asks: “What dating advice would you give to a mid-20s woman with little romantic/sexual experience who wants to finally wade back into the dating pool after several years of being single?”

Amberly McAteer, Canada Q&A editor and Globe Life relationships contributor, wrote about her adventures in online dating: four years of on-again, off-again experimenting with different dating sites and different strategies. Her last attempt ended in success: She’s now enjoying cohabitation bliss with the “dapper” man in this column.

Her advice to you:

Online dating is a great tool in becoming comfortable with the dating scene at your own pace. You’ll be nervous for your first meeting, but being online can boost confidence – and provide comfort in knowing that you’re putting yourself out there, and ready for a relationship. Some tips:

  • Do not fear the block button. Online dating is no longer taboo – which means everyone is doing it. The good news is that makes it easier to find a date, but more difficult to sift through the bad apples. There will be weirdos – so block them early, and often.
  • Keep your expectations in check – every first date I went on, and I went on about 100 – was just in the hope of a second date, not happily ever after.
  • Have fun. I have three friends that found their perfect mate online within weeks of signing up. I was not so lucky. I had to learn patience – and learn to enjoy every experience. Even the awful dates make for great stories.
  • Make an online profile with at least two photos, and no more than four. Be conversational – and don’t reveal your life story.  ‘Can’t live without dill pickles, The Walking Dead and my dog’ is a better conversation starter than ‘Can’t live without loyalty, patience and laughter.’
  • Use a paid site, if you’re after a long term relationship. You get what you pay for.
  • Be patient, but move quickly: Finding the unicorn – someone who wants what you want, makes you smile, and is online dating on the same site and same time you are – might take some time.  My rule was arranging to meet any potential suitors after 3-4 message exchanges. You can fall in love with someone’s online persona, and then be wildly disappointed in person.

I’d be remiss not to add that meeting someone ‘the old fashioned’ way is still possible: Accept invitations to parties, especially when you don’t know the majority, don’t turn down opportunities to go out with friends in new situations, and join a sports club (from dodgeball to archery to softball – chances are high you’ll make friends, at the very least).

But before you start sifting through eHarmony profiles, Zosia Bielski, The Globe’s relationship reporter found out that becoming emotionally prepared for a relationship is key. Bielski called Susan J. Elliott, author of the new book Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup:

Elliot says preparing emotionally for a relationship after a long break involves being open minded to new people, while ensuring you’re upholding some expectations and not settling.

“Before you go back out there, decide what you must have in a relationship, what you won’t put up with and what may be negotiable,” says Elliott. “It’s important to define, fully, what your personal standards are and not to back down from them.”

Elliott says staying open-minded during a date, even if the person across the table is having trouble: Resist snap judgments.

“I suggest doing a lot of observation and if you’re not sure what something means — is it a meaningless quirk or does it reveal something deeper — mentally tuck it in your back pocket and then observe other behaviors, actions and words and see how it comes together,” says Elliott. “Unless someone is just so blatantly not what you want, give it some time and allow their personality to unfold for you.”

Likewise, Elliott hazards caution about people who bowl you over on the first date: “Sometimes it will obscure your ability to objectively observe the person. If a person who seems nice, caring and affectionate – a generally ‘okay’ person — asks you on a second date but you hesitate because you don’t feel a spark, remember it’s just a second date. If you want to do things differently this time around, indulging someone in a second date could be a good thing for you to learn and grow.”

Follow Zosia Bielski on Twitter, and read Amberly McAteer’s dos and don’ts for online dating.