When it comes to dog training, as challenging as it can be for owners, our dogs must experience their share of frustration. Dogs are masters of communication through body language. With a glance a dog can convey important messages to other dogs and people, who know how to translate it. Many of the postures or movements that dogs use to communicate are very subtle, yet that does not diminish the importance of what they are trying to say.
Do you know that dogs don’t yawn just because they’re tired? Or that a dog that looks away from you is not necessarily indicating its indifference to what you have to say? Did you realize that looking directly at a dog or reaching out to pet it can be perceived as a threat? Despite popular wisdom, a dog wagging its tail is not always happy nor is every dog that rolls over asking for a belly rub.
Any owner that wants to learn how to train their dog should brush up on their dog body language communication skills. Some of the behaviors we see are easy to interpret, a cowering dog is probably afraid, but so might be a dog that is growling, lunging or stopping in its tracks to sniff invisible objects on the ground and ignores his owner. Too often when a dog is trying to convey its confusion, fear or lack of understanding its behavior is labeled as disobedient, defiant or dominant by its owner and even some trainers. When an owner responds to a dog which is afraid, as though it is trying to be dominant, the results can be disastrous. Punishing a dog that is not complying with a cue, and is seen as being disobedient or defiant, but in actuality does not understand what is expected of it, makes little sense and is actually quite mean! Most dog owners do not want to be unkind or scary to their dogs, and with the knowledge of how dogs communicate, they never need to be.
There are a variety of resources available to pet owners to help them learn about what their dog’s body language is saying about how their dog feels and what it might be trying to communicate. Trainer Turid Rugaas has compiled a list of behaviors which she defines as ‘calming signals’ or behaviors which are intended to either; mitigate stress in interactions between dog or dogs and humans, signify a lack of ill-intent, or relieve stress in the dog offering the behavior. For a brief introduction of calming signals have a look at this video.
You can purchase a copy of Turid Rugaas’ DVD about calming signals or other books and resources on how dogs communicate, here. In the meantime don’t let those three D’s be the first thing that comes to mind when you interpret your dog’s behavior.