One of the most important criteria for Pet Partner therapy dogs is for the handlers to understand their dog’s signals and signs. They need to know when they have to go to the bathroom, when they are tired, and especially when they are stressed.
Animals, like people, have found ways to cope with stress and accommodate in their environments.
Being able to recognize the signs of stress in your pet is critical to stave off aggression, fear, illness and many other outcomes if these signals are ignored. In the animal assisted therapy community these behaviors are called displacement signals Evaluators are taught how to spot these subtle signs. Sometimes you just have a “bad feeling” about a dog and can’t put your finger on what is making you uncomfortable. Once you understand the various displacement signals, you can spot the discomfort before it escalates to something dangerous, for you or for the dog. What we are really evaluating is the dog’s comfort level with different situations and how they cope under stress.
Some signals we think of are the ways in which a dog calms itself when faced with stress. Sometimes we think these behaviors are “cute” such as when a dog yawns but if it in a situation where it is calming itself, look to see what is making the dog uncomfortable and in need of calming.
Some displacement signals include:
Whining, excessive vocalizing
Restlessness, pacing, increased activity
Trying to leave
Turning away, no eye contact
Panting and salivating
Licking lips, licking in general
Today Kirby had to work in two different places as his brother Benny was not feeling well. Kirby has healed from his latest knee surgery and seemed fine when we headed out this morning to our first facility. Kirby loves going to this place and has many fans there. We usually stay an hour and a half but at the one hour mark, just as I was about to give him a potty break, he started exhibiting his displacement sign. He was very clear that he had enough and wanted to go home. No one other than me would understand this very cute gesture meant “enough,” so I took him outside to potty and we decided to leave.
When we got home he rested a bit. He snuggled in his bed and fell asleep. The afternoon assignment is the most important to us and the one Kirby looks forward to the most. He is at his best. It is our time with Julian. So I walked him around and watched him very closely for his signals … could he go see Julian today?
Kirby seemed rested so off we went. When we are a few blocks from the location Kirby always gets excited and perks up in his car seat. He did today. When we got there he was cheery and alert. He was very happy to see Julian, his brother and his mom. He never showed his stress signals with Julian.
So sometimes your dog may want to leave a particular environment and people and is perfectly fine and happy elsewhere.
I think Kirby knew he had a lot to do this one day and wanted to save his strength for his time with Julian and that’s why he needed to leave the morning assignment early!
What we learn as Pet Partners is to always listen to your dog