Dogs are unable to speak for themselves. It seems obvious, but there are many pet owners that struggle to understand their pet’s needs. Being able to read your dog and advocate for him is crucial for his health, safety, and happiness.

Advocating is simply supporting or pleading in favor of another party. When it comes to your dog, it means that you need to be his voice. To be his voice, you must first understand how he communicates. It’s easier said than done, but the close relationships we develop with our dog will be our ultimate guide and intuition.

It’s your job to put your dog in situations that he can appropriately handle. Here are some steps you can take to be a better advocate for your dog:

Read his body language
Canine body language is the best way to read your dog and how he is feeling. This goes for both verbal and non-verbal communication. Our dogs tell us exactly how they’re feeling through all different types of cues including:

  • Growling
  • Tail wagging or tucking
  • Drooling
  • Whimpering
  • Teeth baring
  • Shaking/trembling

And so much more. There is a plethora of resources breaking down canine body language and its meanings. To effectively speak for your dog, it’s critical that you know his language first.

Be aware
This is a broad statement but an important one. When you understand what your dog is feeling, you can play offense when it comes to being his advocate.

Observing your environment allows you to better protect your dog and others. There are plenty of temptations and distractions in this world. If we’re not being vigilant, we can miss key indicators that our dogs are feeling stressed or threatened in a situation. By staying aware we can intervene and remove our dog from potentially disruptive or dangerous situations.

Put it into practice
When you know what is best for your dog, you need to speak up. This can take many different forms including voicing health/behavioral concerns with a veterinarian, reinforcing distance with strangers, and sometimes it means sitting out on certain occasions.

The best interest of your dog should come before your own desires. As much as you may want to bring your dog to brunch on the patio, his leash reactivity and discomfort with strangers take precedence. Leaving him at home or changing plans may be the best route to take to avoid conflicts.

Trust your gut
You will not always have the answers or understand what your dog is trying to tell you. Trust your gut in times of uncertainty. If you think a situation is too stressful or potentially sets your dog up for failure, skip it.

Tell a well-meaning stranger if your dog isn’t friendly and understand that it doesn’t make you a bad dog owner to say that. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Being responsible and speaking out when you have a concern regarding your dog is the safest thing you can do.

If you feel you’re in over your head, reach out to a trainer. They are well-versed in animal advocacy and coach you on how to speak for your dog.