In the fall we have a lot of houseflies in our area, something that is out of the ordinary for any other time of year.
We don’t have a fly swatter, so I grabbed a magazine and was—WHACK!—killing the flies, or at least trying.
Meanwhile, my dog Ace tucked his tail and head low and ran to the corner of the room where he lied down and cowered.
“Ace!” I said in my happy voice (some might say I was rewarding my dog’s fear). “It’s OK, boy!” Then I got out his ball and played with him a bit.
My dog apparently doesn’t like the sound of a magazine hitting the couch or the floor or the wall.
Does he dislike the sound?
Does he think I’m mad?
Does he think I’m going to hit him?
Did someone hit him with a magazine or rolled-up newspaper at some point? (unlikely)
Sensitive dogs, not mistreated dogs
Some dog owners might jump to the conclusion that my dog must’ve been hit at some point with a magazine or rolled-up newspaper.
As another example, if a dog is scared of someone holding a broom, it might be easy to assume the dog was hit with a broom.
In reality, I know my dog is most likely just sensitive to the sound of the magazine.
There’s very little that actually scares Ace, but he is very sensitive to my tone of voice and my mood. He doesn’t like to be around me when I’m stressed and crabby (who would?).
He’s the type of dog that acts heartbroken if you tell him “no.” He always wants to do the “right” thing. He might’ve thought I was upset when I was trying to catch those flies.
Dawn Ross maintains a blog called American Dog Blog, and she wrote a good post recently on this very topic. She wrote how her dog Pierson can be shy when meeting new people.
While that could mean Pierson was mistreated, more than likely he is just shy due to his specific breed mix or possibly a lack of socialization, Dawn wrote.
As another example, Ace used to get really stressed when my husband Josh would yell during Vikings football games. Ace would run upstairs to hide, seemingly thinking he was in trouble. (I don’t know what he was really thinking.)
But Ace’s actions make sense, considering he grew up in a house with two women and no men. These women may have been sports fans who yelled a lot (I don’t know), but they probably didn’t yell and swear quite like my husband does when the Minnesota Vikings are losing.
Today, Ace is not fazed by this kind of sports drama. He even joins in on the excitement (or disappointment), wagging his tail and looking for a toy to present to us, probably to get us to stop watching TV and to play a real sport, like fetch.
A dog’s past is often unknown
Many people know very little about their dogs’ pasts, but I am fortunate to know my dog Ace has never been abused.
I saw where he lived before I adopted him. I met his previous owner, and while she didn’t train him, she cared about him and wanted the best. She hardly disciplined him at all—that was obvious. He didn’t even know the word “sit.”
I suppose it’s possible she scolded him with a rolled-up newspaper at some point, but it seems unlikely. Even if she had, I wouldn’t consider it “abuse”—just a dog owner doing what she thought was best at the time. There would be no point to dwell on it now.
Overall, I think we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions when it comes to a dog’s past.
If the dog truly was abused, then yes, that information is helpful to know, but only to help the dog move forward. It’s not a reason to hold a dog back or to feel sorry for him over the longterm.
And if he’s just shy, sensitive or needs more socialization, then you know to gradually introduce him to new things in a positive way.