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Understanding Your Dog's Body Language

By ChristineMorrison. | Dog Training

As a professional dog trainer, I believe that training is very beneficial to your relationship with your dog and crucial for home harmony. Is learning a few basic obedience commands enough?

Anyone in marketing will tell you ANY pet related products and services are in demand. Come up with a great idea and you can pretty much find your niche. Pet related services, such as training, grooming and pet sitting are more popular than ever which warms my heart because it means people are treating their pets more like family members and less like possessions

There are as many techniques for training classes as there are dog trainers. I know in my small town, for example, there are four dog trainers within a 25-mile radius, so what sets us apart? Certainly experience but definitely training techniques as well. I use positive reinforcement/low-stress training techniques. The others use prong/pinch collars and shock collars to train which have an adverse effect on what you are trying to accomplish. Positive reinforcement means replacing unwanted behaviors with desired behaviors. It means rewarding those behaviors you want and ignoring those that you do not want in an environment that is fun and as stress-free as possible! I keep workshop attendance small so that I can train and focus on your dog and your needs. A very important part of enjoyable learning is having fun and I work hard to ensure that you and your dog enjoy learning together! 

Another key component to a great, bonded relationship with your dog is body language. Yours and his. Our training has taught us to be aware of body language in professional situations such as job interviews, and work presentations, but we have a tendency to be lax in our social connections and personal life. Why? Isn’t it just as important then? Yes it is, especially when you are communicating with your dog! Since they cannot speak (at least not in a way we understand unless we are well versed in woof dialect) they communicate with their body, and eye-to-eye contact human to dog is extremely important. So important, in fact, that the reason they jump on us is to gauge our mood and feelings. Are we angry, sad, happy, playful? Dogs are masters at reading our body language so shouldn’t we at least try to reciprocate?

Reading your dog’s body language is the best way to prevent a bad situation from escalating, perhaps into a fight. 

Much like we are right or left handed, dogs are right or left pawed. Since the right hemisphere of the brain (associated with negative emotions) controls the left paw, it means these dogs are harder to train and have more tendency to be slightly more likely to show aggression toward strangers. In opposite, right pawed dogs are calmer, more easily trained and less likely to experience high reactivity. 

Similarly, the direction, speed and height of the tail mean different things when using it to communicate. In the nutshell, a dog wagging their tail to the right is indication of a happy, positive dog who wants to be approached while a dog wagging to the left means the dog is nervous and negative and should not be approached. Tiny, high-speed movements mean the dog is about to do something-usually fight or flight ensues. A broad wag is akin to us waving hello and is a friendly gesture that signifies happiness. 

How about head tilts? To most of us, they are like Kryptonite. In my case, I cave nearly every time one of my dogs gives an adorable head tilt.  What does a head tilt mean in the dog-to-dog world? If they see a happy dog, your dog tilts to the right and to the left if they see a dog that appears aggressive. 

Scientists are delving into mysteries surrounding canine facial expressions, woof tones and body language. I am fascinated with these findings and use them when observing my own pack or class participants. Signs of dog anxiety and stress are many such as panting, pacing, yawning, drooling and body stance. 

OK, what about our body language? Dogs respond best to happy, positive facial expressions and voice tones and relaxed mannerisms, which is exactly why positive reinforcement training works so well. If you have two dogs and find a chewed shoe, for example, show it to each dog and demand to know who destroyed it in a stern voice-each dog will look away shamed.  

Take a good look at your pup. What is their language telling you? How does that make you feel?

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Christy MorrisonChristine Morrison

A native of Massachusetts and a resident of Georgia where I have lived since 2008 with six rescue dogs, commonly referred to as my merry band of misfits, and one husband. I am proud owner of Best Buddies Dog Training in Hoschton, GA. When not in the training studio, you'll find me in a nursing home, hospital or special needs class with my certified pet therapy dog or recruiting for my pet therapy organization, Happy Tails. I also spend a great deal of time researching the latest information on dog food, health and training techniques and volunteering with local rescues. I have written stories to contribute to Titan's Tales and Other Dog Adoption Love Stories and In Dogs We Trust.


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