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Does your dog have the opportunity to say “No?” Let’s talk about consent!

Allowing your dog to have the opportunity to say no and set personal boundaries is one of the most important factors in building your dog’s confidence and a sense of empowerment.

So how exactly do you know when your sweet pupper is not interested? Dogs communicate through body language primarily and it is our job as their human handler and partner in this relationship to ensure that we understand and respect their communication whenever possible.

Some signs of being uninterested or saying “No” might look like:

* Looking away- either with just their eyes, a whole head turn, or even possibly a complete curving turn of their body away.

* Turning their entire body away, moving away from you/ the distressing trigger/ situation/ person/ etc.

* Disengaging completely to do something else- going to sniff something, suddenly seeming very interested in looking at something, going to get a drink of water, etc.

* Quick tongue flicks and/or lip licking *

* Yawning *

* Growling, snarling

* Lip quiver, showing teeth

* Quick snap

* Barking, lunging, reactivity

* Bite

(* Behavior occurs out of context)

Dogs generally begin with subtle and more passive communication signals but can sometimes quickly escalate through the communication ladder if they feel they are not being heard or understood. Because the first few signs of communication are subtle, they are often missed by their well-meaning human counterparts. Additionally, many humans have a very unhealthy and simplistic belief that their dog “should” want to engage with them at all times, that they “should” like to be pet, they “should” like to engage with other dogs/ people/ etc. and this is not accurate or fair to your dog. Our dog’s personalities are as unique as our own, and the belief that they must get along with others is a human construct rather than a necessity or preference of most dogs.

Consider, if you and your partner were out for a stroll in the nice weather and another human came up to you, ignoring you and speaking directly to your partner, they then began to gush: “OH MY!!! They are SO CUTE! I just love them! Can I pet them!” and without asking for YOUR consent, your partner states “Of course!!” causing the human to immediately dive into touching all over you- caressing your face, stroking your hair, hugging all over you... How many of us would tolerate this? Or feel excited, joyful, and welcoming of such behavior? It is no different for our dogs.

While some dogs do truly enjoy engaging with humans and being pet and loved on, the reality is this is significantly less common than most humans realize.

Tolerating vs. consenting to something comes from very different emotional places and results in very different experiences for your pup.

Pups who are forced to engage in uncomfortable interactions time and time again, particularly without their communication signals being respected, begin to believe their communication doesn’t matter because it isn’t understood. These pups can sometimes become ticking time bombs, stifling their emotions and their communication for a time…. Until they can’t. They then jump up the communication ladder to a more vocal and obvious communication signal, like a snarl, bite, or snap, in a desperate attempt to be heard and respected and their human seems shocked, often stating “I don’t understand! She’s never bit before… it came out of nowhere!!” When in reality, your pup has been communicating for months and feeling misunderstood.

Consent looks like:

* Leaning in

* Moving towards you with their head, their body, especially moving in towards you from the side (head on is often felt as confrontational. Dogs greet from behind or from the side.)

* Soft relaxed features and body language

* Lots of eye contact and engagement

* Slow, lazy tail wags o