This is an excerpt from Linda’s book, Do No Harm™ Dog Training and Behavior Manual, available to download here.
Ever get the feeling that your dog is talking to you? You’re right. If you’ve longed to know what’s going on in your dog’s head, and to communicate interactively, here’s a surefire way to connect. Learn to read what your dog is saying to you and learn to speak to your dog in a language your dog can understand — body language.
Your dog talks to you in three straightforward ways: via behavior, with body language and by vocalizing. Hone your observational skills to decode your dog’s messages. Then respond with clear hand signals in order to communicate most effectively. Body language is the bridge to communicating with your dog.
Start with listening. Your dog’s body language broadcasts clear giveaways to their feelings. Don’t ignore it. An example given by Dr. Lynn Honeckman (personal communication, 2015), veterinary behavior expert explains, “We can learn to read the body language of dogs displaying happiness, curiosity, anxiety, fear and hostility. Even learning the basics of interpreting a dog displaying ‘approachable’ versus ‘stay away’ body language can be of the greatest benefit.” Here’s what to look for.
A relaxed flag-waving tail often means “I love you” but a raised twitching tail or a tail held horizontal to the ground may be an aggressive display. Fearful dogs often display a low tail or tail tucked between the legs. There’s some difficulty reading the “tail language” of a dog with a stubby tail and that puts both you and other dogs trying to read your dog’s body language at a disadvantage. For more details on tail carriage, please see this PPG article.
Floppy ears generally indicate calm, but erect ears means “I’m on alert” and your dog is deciding how to react. Flattened ears may be your dog telling the world she is afraid. Behaviors on-leash, such as hiding behind you, freezing, or trying to go the opposite direction lets you know something is wrong. Change the situation so she can relax.
Body posture is another emotion indicator. Forward leaning with a stiff body are warnings to back off. If your dog freezes over the food bowl or fixates on another dog, a bite may follow.
Vocalizations such as whining, growling and barking are your dog’s way of telling you she is uncomfortable. Whines often mean, “I’m scared, help me” or “I want something” whereas a growl is a warning. Barks have a lot of different meanings, depending on the context.
Listen for Doggie Disorders
Following you from room to room, escape attempts, housetraining regression, or destructive behavior are some classic symptoms of separation/attachment problems. Your dog is not a happy camper. Fears may be treated with very slow acclimation and exposure to the troubling stimulus. Use baby-step socialization desensitization for confidence building. Dogs with human aggression or serious dog/dog aggression problems need professional help.
Talk Back with Rewards
When your dog does something “all by herself” that you’d like to see more of, such as sitting or making eye-contact on leash, “capture” it by immediately providing a treat. Behaviors that are rewarded are repeated, so reward what you like regularly and frequently and you’ll get more and more of what you want. Use “luring” with a treat to get a jump-start on a new behavior. You may want to use a clicker to “mark” a behavior before you reward.
Developing a good relationship with your dog is two-way street. Stay positive. Don’t correct… redirect. Punishment and old school dominance training methods produce anxiety and may cause aggression, making a troubling behavior even worse. Learning to look at the world from your dog’s point of view will help you understand and respond appropriately to dog talk so you can both be happy!
What is My Dog Saying? and What is My Dog Saying at the Dog Park? by Carol Byrnes is available online for pet parents and trainers who want to learn more.
Learn more about pet parent problem-solving, teaching classes, and private consultations in the Do No Harm Dog Training Manual.
The Do No Harm™ Dog Training Manual was designed as my own personal guide for teaching basic manners classes, and evolved into a reference manual for my private behavior consultations. Created as a practical guide for either or both training formats, it is also helpful for pet parents who want an inside look at dog training and behavior, as well as for those who seek force-free solutions for specific problems. Written with love for the “heartbeats at our feet”. You can purchase and download the PDF ebook dog training manual here.
Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” M.A./Psychology a Top Ten Rated U.S. Dog Trainer — Del Mar Dog Training, may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaPositively@gmail.com for private manners/obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com All rights reserved.