A dog is equipped with their inbuilt communication system, this hasn't changed, we've just learned to interpret it better in recent years and have been able to find out how that interpretation relates to the dog's feelings and thoughts. Isn't that incredible? This are all recent findings and such an amazing time to see how we can now understand our dogs so much more, well I'm excited anyway, are you?
I mean, before we learnt foreign languages just think how we used to communicate, it would have been through using your body to imply what you're trying to say! That’s basically what your dog is doing! Whilst we’re figuring out the language barrier, we use each other's body position and eye contact to show how we’re feeling as well as what we’re wanting them to do. Once you've got your head around that, training your puppy should make sense, it’s learning how your puppy best responds to your ‘language’ to achieve the results you find desirable. This can be fun, positive and a nurtured way of learning.
Body language is a huge area for humans too and we can speak to one another about our feelings, despite sometimes our body showing something else in its communication. For instance, that Auntie at a wedding party who you've been speaking to when you want to go boogie with everyone, you’ll be making all the noises of agreeing with your aunt politely that Uncle Fred isn't himself and what is cousin Emily wearing… but your body, if you were to study yourself, would show your feet and body slightly pointing away from your aunt, ready to flee from the conversation as soon as the right time comes! Ring any bells? Yes, that’s right, your dog will have subtle signs that will be showing just that, a slight shift in his weight will let the other dog know his intentions, to either run off (shifting backwards) or ready for action, be it play or otherwise (shifting weight into front legs).
We know that body language tells us a lot about what our dog is thinking and feeling, but there are a host of subtle signs too that all have to be looked at in context. I can’t stress that enough when trying to understand what your dog is thinking. So here’s a little test for you, when out walking your dog and when your dog spots another dog, I want to you to just watch your dog's every move, will they just freeze before assessing the situation, if so, while frozen, are their any subtle signs in the lead up to the freeze - do they do a little shake, this can be to shake off bit of stress and discomfort about the situation, yawn or flick their tongue? or do they bold on forward body confident with tail high? If the latter, try and notice the body tension or the eye shape as these will all give you subtle signs to help you understand their feelings. Also try and look at the other dog, are they equally as bold at approaching? It’s very rare that dogs will go head on to each other, there’ll always be some sort of body adjustment from one or the other to show no threat, be that a movement of their eyes, tail slightly adjusting, if there isn't then be mindful to watch for any subtle signals that your dog is feeling uncomfortable, ears back, flicking the tongue, high quick wagging tail, starring eyes, tense body, slight shift of body weight onto the back of the body, all these are signs the dog is ready to do his ‘flight’ out of the situation... and generally will all be at the same time, so you need an acute eye. Remember we've put this into context, this is so important to remember, because had I not mentioned the other dog, but to watch when you get their motivator out, for instance a ball, your dog could be giving you the same signs, which would be indicating excitement and anticipation of you throwing and them chasing the ball… see, it’s important to remember the context!
I'm sure, like me, your ideal situation is that your dog gets to have their walk as stress free as possible, this is where I've really enjoyed understanding my own dog's subtle language as I can read him so that his walks are just that; stress free and positive experiences are always high on my agenda, plenty of rewards, plenty of positive reassurance and attention to one another is key. I always notice that if my walk is shared with someone that can divert my attention, then my dog doesn't always have the most stress-free walk, are you like that? Also, by allowing my dog to make choices this offers him confidence that he’s not always reliant on me and allows him to gain confidence to ‘think’ his way out of situations. He knows now, if we cross the road to avoid the reactive dog, he doesn't have to go through a ‘fear’ stage to let me know how he’s feeling, we just cross the road, his attention is on me and the reactive dog can do his ‘thang’ on the other side of the road without my dog going through any stress or fear, make sense?
Having these tools in your knowledge bank will allow you to understand your dog, for instance if we know while waiting at the vets your dog is yawning, there is an element of discomfort about the situation, you can offer reassurance and make the experience as positive as possible for them.
Hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit more about canine language and enjoyed this Paws 4 Thought.