Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Wee Lesson in Body Language

Body Language:  noun  nonverbal, usually unconscious, communication through the use of postures, gestures, facial expressions, and the like


Dogs do have a verbal communication that we can sometimes decipher.  But most of their language is communicated in the posture of the body.  If we, as handlers, learned to read this language with a high degree of proficiency, we would be able to eliminate most of the issues humans have with our dogs.  To begin to understand, simply go to a dog park without your dog and observe how the other dogs are communicating.  Another good place to watch the language of dog in on TV.  There is a new channel now just for dogs and you can see some dogs interacting.   You will see a dog approach another.  Sometimes the dog will turn it's back to another.  Sometimes they will approach, not in a straight line;  but almost a semi circle. Sometimes a dog will stop it's approach and simply stand there.  Some dogs will put their head down and begin to sniff the ground while others might yawn or turn their head or begin to lick or even drool excessively.  



All of these actions {and there are many more} mean something.  I'm not a threat.  I'm scared of you.  I want to play.  I'm too nervous.  You may approach.  You may not approach.  Any dog who gets on great at a dog park is pretty well versed and fluent in this language.  And they know when to play and when to back off.  But there are many dogs who can never go to a dog park simply because they don't read the language well or because they are really too frightened to deal with all the activity.  My Malcolm is one such dog.
  


I haven't figured out if it's because he is very slow to mature (he was the runt of the litter) or because he is simply too frightened.  But I do know that he's not fluent in dog language.  That is, he doesn't read it well and get how he should react.  He's very good at giving the signals himself though.  As most of you know, he was frightened at a young age by 3 charging miniature schnauzers.  He was very scared and since then has been lunging at small dogs every chance he gets.  I've been working with an animal behaviorist and many other dog trainers and doing research on my own to try and correct this nightmarish problem.  He has good days and bad, like all of us, but he's generally getting better and better.  Or, more correctly, I am getting better and better at seeing what's happening and reacting properly.



In addition to being frightened by the small dogs, I took bad advice and over corrected him in these situations.  (You know, we all pick dogs that are similar to us in some respect.  If you think a Boxer is bull headed, you should meet me.)  Not realizing how sensitive he was, I made the situation worse.  My over correcting resulted in him being frightened of new people and new sounds and new situations.  So he's been scared of almost everything for a while.  



When it finally got through to my brain that he was sensitive, I took an extremely opposite approach.  Now, when I need to correct him, (and it's not that often any more), I actually slap him on the chest with my flat fingers.  He's highly insulted by that and immediately will correct himself from what ever unwanted behavior is happening.  He simply can not fathom that his Mom, who he knows loves him, would slap him with her hand.  Forget prong collars and harnesses.  They did nothing for him.  But a little slap wakes him up out of what ever it is that he's focused on.



We recently went on a trip to the mountains and of course, Malcolm was nervous to go on hikes in unfamiliar places and meet new people.  And of course, when you go camping, there are dogs galore.  It was a good opportunity to  work him and expose him to new things.  I spent some time in each campground just sitting and holding his tail up into a neutral position and rubbing his belly to calm him down.  When he was relaxed, he would start to sniff the ground and walk a bit and then we went back to our camp.  It seemed to help him.

McKenzie was stressed out as we drove down the highway, because I wouldn't let her in my lap.  She panted and calmed herself down.


Here are some pictures and a video.  You can assess the body language yourself and see what you think.  Look at your dog and watch closely other dogs and see if you can begin to understand what they are telling you.

video


A great resource that will get you hooked on listening to dogs is this book which is sold on Amazon.  (I don't sell it myself, I just like it and give you the link).


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