Training Tuesday – Communicating with your Dog
Communicating with your Dog: Stop Talking
by Andy Sands, Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant
Body Language is Worth a Thousand Words
Hello Suncoast! The weeks just fly by don’t they? It’s already Training Tuesday again. On this latest journey we have been discussing the most effective ways to communicate with your dog. Things like hand signals, facial expressions, and body language go a long way in getting your dog to understand what you are “saying.” During the last two weeks we’ve discussed the use of hand signals and facial expressions. Now it’s time to learn how dogs understand body language.
We all know that dogs bark. The problem is that we tend to think barking is their primary mode of communication. As such, we place way too much emphasis on it, and we don’t pay attention to what really matters; body language. Dogs bark, but what is really being said, is communicated in the body language of the dog. Dogs have various ways of communicating using posture, ear placement, lip movement, head turns, etc. What is happening with their body, is communicating what is really being said.
Body language is also an extremely useful way for us to communicate information to our dogs. For instance, when you are out for a walk, should you encounter another dog, or even another person, that you find frightening, you can send that message of fear to your dog through your body language. If you become hesitant, or if your movements become stiff, in dog language you are signaling danger and warning of unfriendly or potentially aggressive behavior approaching. And your dog will respond accordingly.
Even if you do feel a little fearful, it is better to maintain a relaxed appearance on the outside. If you’re relaxed and confident, your dog will be too. Dogs have been studied closely and have been found to be masterful at human observation. Even a slight change in our countenance sends a huge message to the dog. What we think of as a subtle change may be interpreted as extremely important to a dog. Holding your breath, uneven breathing, the tightening of your jaw or lips, all signal to the dog that danger is coming. On the other hand, a loose gait, confident stride, easy breathing, mouth slightly open, all signal to the dog that everything is as it should be.
A helpful tip for communicating with your dog using body language is to pretend that your dog is deaf. How would you get your message across? What signals, motions, etc. would you use? Try getting your dog to “sit” or assume a “down,” or perhaps “come when called” all without using words. Practice it some, and see how your dog responds to your body language.
Body language is very important in the dog world; it’s how dogs communicate with each other, and they are masters at reading our body language. Out of all of the ways that we can communicate with our canine companions, body language is perhaps the most important one for us to be aware of. Come back next Training Tuesday as we continue discussing how to best communicate with our dogs by adding in tone of voice with all of the other visual cues.