One of the fascinating things about People Watching is you can tell a lot about someone, or a couple, from their body language: Those who are at ease with each other, even if they’re not holding hands, those who have argued (walking stance is a dead giveaway), or that first sign of attraction.
I can tell when Hubby’s in pain, even when he says he’s not.
He can tell when something is worrying me, even if I say there isn’t.
You could say it’s because we’ve been together so long it’s automatic, but everyone has little ‘tells’ and if you know what to look for, you can read them like a book (the film ‘Wimbledon’ mentions this to identify various types of serves to be delivered by the opponent in the final).
Note: I am not professing to be an expert here!
I was walking Maggie early yesterday morning well aware that we’d had a couple of long walks the day before. After her muscle problems last year, we try not to over tire her and are constantly watching her gait just in case she should start to experience any repetition.
She seemed a little ploddy, so although I was out for almost an hour, I only walked her down to the lock and back rather than the full length of the riverbank down to the end of the High Street.
Dogs want to please their owners, even if they are feeling a little under par.
We had a friend who owned two dogs, both border collies. One was a pup of about 12 months and the other an old lady almost 17 years of age.
Every day, she would want to go out for her walk and would sit by the front door.
We often used to see them in the woods, the husband exercising and training the pup along the same pathways and routes we used, and the wife walking the elderly dog up and down one particular area of the dog’s choosing close to the car.
As time progressed, the dog still wanted to come out for her walk, but could only manage a few steps sometimes and it wasn’t unusual to see them carrying her back to the car as she was just too tired to make it on her own.
Eventually, the dog would just look longingly at the door, but wouldn’t get up and stayed on her blanket.
Our friend never forced or expected the dog to do anything she didn’t want to. There were days when she wanted to come out and others when she wanted to rest.
Like us, they believed in quality of life, but didn’t want their dog to suffer, especially when she started to go downhill very quickly.
The decision was made after Christmas. The vet came to the house, the dog was pleased to see him, wagged her tail, and curled up on her blanket.
Maggie can be cantankerous, either by sniffing every blade of grass on our walks, being selectively deaf or not cooperating having her last wee of the day when it develops into a battle of wills.
However, there are days when she won’t go far from our side or will hold back sensing something we are unable to see and warning us that something isn’t quite right.
She recognises our neighbours footsteps, but if there is a stranger, she ‘alarms up’ by raising her head, perhaps grumbling in her throat, to let us know something is different. It is rare for her to bark unless someone comes aboard uninvited or knocks on the door.
I can tell if she’s not well.
It’s not always because of a warm dry nose, but the way she holds herself, her head, the way she walks, the way she snuggles close for reassurance and comfort, how and where she sleeps.
If she has indigestion, she has a way of putting herself at the right angle for me to rub her tummy. If I move from the spot, she will manoeuver my hand back to where she wants it until she belches, then all is well in her world.
We know when she’s unnerved.
She doesn’t like thunder and can sense when it’s in the air. She paces, can’t settle, and will eventually try to get behind us on the bench or in bed.
We know when she’s ‘nice hungry’ (ie, doesn’t want her ‘boring’ dinner).
She will direct us with her eyes to the cupboard under the sink where she knows the treats box is. If we ignore her, she’ll go and sit in front of it!
We know that she sulks (eyes downcast, head on her front feet) and she also grovels very well when she’s displeased us (sidling up to us and resting her head on our knee or lap with those expressive eyes).
She understands ‘Show me’ and will lie on her back offering her feet for inspection if her toes are sore from standing on a sharp object or have become bruised from walking on rough ground.
She doesn’t like having a bath, but enjoys being dried with the hairdryer, preening herself into position so that we can aim the warm air blast to her chest, tummy and under her chin.
She can be playful, bouncing between us, coming to each of us in turn for fuss or praise, and if another dog is chasing a ball, she will look at us as if asking permission to join in.
Years ago we stopped her going through open gates into the fields. It wasn’t just in case there was livestock there, but we’d heard that the farmers shot first and asked questions later. She will stand at an open gateway and look at us. She can see rabbits, pigeons, pheasant and anything else chaseable, but will not go through that opening unless we tell her to ‘Go see’.
She ‘found’ something strange in the garden once and came to get us, pestering us until we got up to go and investigate. She took us down the path, across the grass and stopped about 5 yards from ‘it’.
It was a dead rabbit, but she’d left it alone.
On another note, she will not take treats from strangers, no matter how much they fuss her. She instinctively knows though who are doggie people, who are nervous of dogs, and how children can be, and reacts accordingly, so she too is reading body signals.
She may be curious and her body language is telling us that she wants to find out more but is not sure, thus waiting for our guidance and protection if she doesn’t like it.
She is also therapeutic, presenting herself as a comforter, being close to reduce and relieve stress. When I was working, the rhythmic stroking of her head, flank or tummy was better than any medication. When she knew I was relaxed, she went and lay down in her bed.
She knows when Hubby is suffering on our walks and will linger behind until he catches up. If I am slightly ahead, she will come to me, nudge my hand, and wait with me.
This was proven this morning when we were walking into town. She stopped and moved in front of me, barring my path. When I looked behind me, Hubby was leaning against the wall, wiping his eyes, so I rushed back to find out what was wrong. Apparently something had flown into his eye, temporarily blinding him. All was well though and we were able to continue, but Maggie stayed with him all the way.
If he is walking her on his own, she stays close to his side and matches her pace to his.