Dogs (Canines) communicate by Scent, Body Language and Sound. Learning, how we as Humans sometimes give mixed messages due to our way of using Body Language & Sound, is the key to a successful relationship with our Dogs.
First let’s talk about Scent:-
For years people have said dogs can smell Fear and “Whatever you are feeling goes down the leash to your dog”. Well science has now confirmed that our Pheromones (Scent), does change dependent our mood. So yes your dog can by smell figure out your mood. Thus why a Calm Scent is most beneficial. Your BUDDA ZONE, as I call it.
Dogs learn to put your individual scents into emotional boxes, which they divide up into multiple levels of the basic emotions. Anger, Fear, Happy & Calm. To help them determine which box each scent goes into they look at your body language and listen to the tone of your voice. And here is where we get confusing to them.
To a Dog (Canine), large, up-right, tall, big body language means large and in charge, calm and confident. Making yourself look smaller, means you are unsure, nervous or afraid.
Therefore, bending over is not a good body position for us. There are two other messages bending over can convey, and that is Dominance (if over the top of your dog’s body) or Invitation to Play (our human equivalent of a Play Bow).
How important is body language, well it’s one, we can control and need to think about. The amazing fact is dog’s have learned a lot about Human Body Language, by watching us (but the basics remain). Dog’s do realize we are not able to move our ears as they do and that we do not have tails and that we do not move around on all fours. Did you know science has confirmed that dogs are the only animal on the planet that has figured out if Humans close their eyes they cannot SEE. Even the Great Apes our closest genetic cousins have not figured that one out. SO DOGS HAVE LEARNED TO WATCH EVEN OUR SMALLEST MOVEMENTS.
So Body Posture becomes very important.
To a Dog (Canine), a high squeaky tone, means Excitement and Play.
A Low, Deep, bark or growl is a Warning or Correction Tone.
Think of the tone of that “Oh My God, Throw the Ball” Bark, compared to that “I don’t Like that” Bark. Some of you with vocal dogs, and/or Large Breeds, will surely have noticed the difference, and may even to able to recognize, a third and fourth level of tone, for other communications.
So, how do we use tone and what do we need to know about Human Tones. Well, did you know when you raise your voice, you actually go up an octave or two or more, from your normal tone.
So the scenario is this:-
You get angry with your dog for chewing let’s say your brand new Shoes, Couch, Rug or any other object. So you “Address” the Dog (Bend forward), Start Shouting and/or raise you voice. You may even Wag a Finger or Shake your Fist at the dog (rapid irregular movement is an Invitation To Play).
What does your DOG read from this:-
1) Your Scent says your angry
2) Your Body Language says you are Unsure/Nervous/Afraid – Inviting to Play – Dominating
3) Your Tone says you are Happy/Excited
Well, you’re making perfect sense are you not ? being every emotion in the book all at once, and the look you get is not one of GUILT, but of APPEASEMENT. Basically, you are having a mental breakdown, right in front of your dog.
If you remember how Dogs (Canines) Communicate, you will give a clear message.
1) Scent Angry/Upset/Annoyed
2) Body Language Tall and Straight -Large and in Charge
3) Tone Low and Deep, Warning or Correction.
I use the phrase “Sargent Major, Buddha Zone”
Sargent Majors stand very up-right, issue orders and do not make requests, Buddha Zone reminds you to remain Calm not matter what. Good Leaders are Calm and Consistent.
When I say Sargent Majors issue orders and do not make requests, it’s because as Humans, when we start repeating a Cue/Command to our dogs, we naturally, start bending, rapid fire words and start to get frustrated. We stop making sense. Also, we start teaching our dogs they do not have to listen to us UNTIL………… and that’s just not going to work in the long run. If, we do not have to SIT UNTIL……… Then why do we have to listen to COME straight away, and that could become a major safety issue one day.
Canine Behaviourist B.Sc.
Certified Professional Dog Training Instructor
Authorized Mentor Trainer-Animal Behavior College Inc.
Professional Dog Trainer-Canadian Association of Pet Dog Trainers
Director of Evaluators-Therapeutic Paws Of Canada
Canine Good Neighbour Evaluator-Canadian Kennel Club