What Is Your Dog Saying? A Key to Canine Body Language

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Keys to Understanding Canine Body Language

Every dog, whether Akita, bichon, or beagle, knows the same language. You and your dog probably pick up on each other’s signals without thinking much about it. But if your dog begins to behave differently, if you are getting to know a new dog, or if you encounter a dog you don’t know, it helps to be able to read the universal body language of dogs.

If you and your dog landed in Tokyo or Timbuktu tomorrow and were greeted by a local person and his dog, it would take only a few minutes for the two dogs to understand each other. Hours later, you would still be wondering if you were bowing properly, making acceptable hand gestures, or using the right table manners. The dogs, on the other hand, would know just what to do – the lead dog eats first.

Signals Dogs Use to Communicate

Although a dog can’t speak and has no hands and fingers for gesturing as humans do, you can watch key parts of his body to determine how he’s feeling and reacting to the world around him.

Face. Although the dog’s facial muscles are not as refined as a human’s, he can wrinkle or straighten his forehead to show confusion or determination. If your dog wants you to give him further direction, he may raise his eyelids quizzically and tilt his head to one side.

Eyes. A dog’s eyes brighten when he looks at a creature he considers friendly and when he wants to play. If he is afraid, his pupils dilate and he shows the whites of his eyes. He averts his eyes to avoid confrontation. But if he is angry or ready to defend himself, his eyes narrow and follow your every move. At this point, it’s particularly important not to look the dog in the eye because he sees that as a challenge to defend his position.

Lips, teeth and tongue. A relaxed dog in normal posture may let his tongue loll out of his mouth. If he wants something from you, if he is happy or wants to play, he may pull his lips back in what appears to be a smile and show his teeth, an expression, by the way, dogs show only to humans and not to other dogs. But beware the dog that bares his clenched teeth and wrinkles his nose. He is ready to attack.

Ears. The dog’s sense of hearing is much more acute than ours and even dogs with floppy ears have the ability to move and turn them to follow sounds. If a dog’s ears are raised, he is relaxed, listening, or showing acceptance. If they are back, he may be signaling submission and deference or may be frankly fearful.

Tail. A dog wags his tail when he is happy or wants to play. It is really an energy indicator. When he is submissive, he tucks it between his legs. A taut tail, held down rigidly behind him, may show that he is prepared to spring since he uses his tail for balance when jumping.

Voice. Dogs are vocal animals. They yip, bark, whimper, howl, and growl. The pitch or volume of their sounds can increase with their level of emotion. A bark may be playful or aggressive. Unlike body signals, dog noises can mean different things from different dogs.

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Dog Posture Speaks Volumes – What Your Dog is Saying

When two dogs meet, as long as their human companions aren’t tugging tight on their leashes, they carry out a series of actions that looks like a choreographed dance. With their bodies tense and tails taut, they circle and sniff each other, silently gathering and exchanging information, ready to defend themselves at any moment if necessary. They hold their ears back and the hair on their back may stand on end. They often avoid direct eye contact at first, sizing each other up to determine if the stranger is strong or weak, male or female, hostile or non-hostile. One dog may place his head on the nape of the other’s neck or nip at his nose. It seems they are getting ready to fight and then, one lies down. Soon, they may separate and urinate. At this point they have agreed on which dog is dominant.

 

Dogs learn body language from their mothers during the first 8 weeks of their lives and they test out this form of communication with their litter-mates. If a dog misses out on such training, he will have trouble communicating with other dogs throughout life.

Normal posture. The dog appears alert with head held high. His tail moves freely. His jaw is relaxed.

Invitation to play. The dog happily signals his desire to play by wagging his tail and dipping down into a “play bow.” His front legs are in a crouch and his backbone swoops up, leaving his rear haunches high. His head is held up expectantly to capture your attention. He may raise a front leg or lean to one side with his head.

Submission. The dog crouches down further and still appears relaxed. He may lift a front foot as in a play invitation, but his ears are back and his tail is down. He may yawn, scratch, or sneeze, which is meant to calm him and the dogs or people confronting him.

Fearful aggression. A dog who is afraid tenses his body and holds his tail rigid, though it may be wagging. His rear legs are ready to run or spring. He bares his teeth, draws back his ears and the hair on his back stands on end. He growls or snarls constantly to warn off the subject of his fear.

Dominance aggression. Teeth bared, this dog stares you down and advances confidently with his tail wagging slowly and his ears in the forward (alert) position.

Total submission. The dog drops his tail and curls it between his legs. He drops his head to avoid eye contact. He rolls over on his side and bares his belly, with one hind leg raised and urinates. If he isn’t afraid, he’ll tilt his head up a bit and raise his ears to show trust.

 

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Defining The Term PACK

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  • Here is where there is a huge divide between Dog Trainers.
  • Those that adhere to the The Pack Theory and those that do not.
  • But which Pack Theory?
  • The old or new
  • Alpha or Alpha-Beta-Omega structure

Pack – Alpha

  • This Pack Dominance theory came from studying forced Packs. Wolves in captivity.
  • We now know that Natural Forming packs follow a Alpha-Beta-Omega structure
  • Domestic dogs, like their wild wolf counterparts, also interact in complex hierarchical ways.

Dog or Wolf

  • Dog behavior refers to the collection of behaviors by the domestic dog, and is believed to be influenced by genetic, social, situational and environmental causes.
  • The domestic dog is a subspecies of the grey wolf, and shares many of its behavioral characteristics.

Although there are important and distinct differences between dogs and wolves.

 

Wolf – V – Dog

  • Research of packs formed in the wild indicates that wolves form a family group, including a breeding pair and their offspring.
  • In these familial packs, the terms “dominance,” and “submission” are less useful than “parent,” and “offspring,” and bring with them a number of misconceptions.
  • While the majority of research to date indicates that domestic dogs conform to a hierarchy around an Alpha-Beta-Omega structure, like their wild wolf counterparts.

Pack – v – Family

  • Packs are family units, and the “alpha” of a pack does not change through struggles for dominance. Rather, it argues that the family unit serves to raise the young, which then disperse to pair up with other dispersed wolves to form a breeding pair, and a pack of their own. This model undermines the popular conception of dominance in wolf social behavior.

My Terms

  • I use the word Pack and the term Pack Leader.
  • I could say Family and Dad or Mum or Mum & Dad or The Boss
  • I use the term Leadership
  • I do not mean Dominance when I say that, I mean Leadership
  • What leadership means in relation to our interaction with our dogs is to provide direction, to show and teach them what they are allowed to do, guide them towards what they can and may do instead of engaging in nuisance-type behaviours such as jumping up, biting on hands, pulling on the lead, barking, or barging through doorways.
  • And ‘do’ is an important word here – it’s not enough to say ‘I want my dog to stop barking’ or ‘I want my dog to not jump up’ or ‘not pull on the lead’ – leadership is about teaching them what we want them to do instead, not what we want them not to do.
  • Leadership requires concerted and constructive effort on our part, and involves us prompting and coordinating friendly social interaction, activities and behaviours that bring beneficial results both to us as leaders and to our dogs as followers. It’s about quality of life and enriching the bond that we have with our dogs.

    Leadership requires us to communicate clearly and compassionately with our dogs, to be patient and tolerant while our dogs are learning to follow and trust our direction, and above all, to remember that we are on the same team as our dogs – always.

Canine Behaviour

  • Every species is unique in their behavior. That is how we tell them apart even if their anatomy is closely related.
  • As such, humans and chimps are clearly different species, with a common ancestor, but only some common, primate behaviors.
  • The same is true for dogs and wolves. There are some common behaviours.

Evolution of the Dog

  • Behavioral variations happen when animals adjust to different environmental demands.
  • Adapting to one’s environment, is evolutionary success.
  • The big divergence regarding wolves and dogs is that dogs live on human waste, and non-captive wolves hunt and kill prey.

The Human Bond

  • Food seeking is a primal drive, and that makes that difference a profound one, because it means that wolves depend on one another for survival, and dogs don’t.
  • They depend on humans.
  • They evolved from Wolves into the Dog.
  • A mutually beneficial result for both Dog and Human

Pack Leader/Mum or Dad

  • Why does it matter to us if dogs are natural pack animals or not? Because it impacts their behavior and our life with them, that’s why.
  • Does that mean that our canine companion needs a pack leader? Well, she certainly needs someone who explains how her world works; how she can belong, stay safe and access resources. How she can thrive through cooperation. And that someone has to be the human. The onus is on you, but an existing canine co-dweller who knows the ropes can certainly function as a great helper.

Potty/Crate Training

i meant to behaveA lot of dog owners feel that crate training puppies is cruel. This thinking is wrong and it prevents them from taking advantage of the best house training tool – a crate.

If you can avoid some common crate training mistakes, your puppy will enjoy the time he spends in his crate.

You see, just like wolves, dogs are den animals. A crate provides them with the same sense of security that a den would have provided them in the wild.

The tricky part about crate training puppies lies in the fact that unless you use a crate correctly, you will not achieve the desired result.

What follows are some tips and suggestions you can use right away. Further down, there is a page where I talk more about crate training your puppy.

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So, without wasting any more time, let’s review some…

  • The first step in crate training puppies is to decide where to place the crate. Because puppies are social animals, it’s best to keep the crate in an area where your family spends a lot of time, but avoid placing it next to air vents or in direct sunlight.
  • Put a soft blanket inside the crate. To make your puppy feel more secure, put the crate next to a wall and cover the sides with a towel. Or get a Crate wear Pet Dreams 3-Piece Complete Crate Bed Set that includes a mattress, padded bumpers and a crate cover.
  • Though buckle collars are generally safe, it’s not a good idea to use them when crate training puppies. Why? Because even a flat collar can get stuck between metal bars and injure your puppy.
  • The best time for crate training is when your puppy is hungry, bored, or… both.
  • Never force your pet to enter the crate. If he needs some encouragement, put some of his favourite toys or food inside the crate (from my experience, food works better than toys).

    Initially, leave them near the door and leave the crate door open. As your pet becomes more comfortable, you may move the toys further inside his crate.

  • If the above doesn’t work, try another approach…

    Some puppies get anxious when encouraged to enter the crate but will venture inside on their own if there is an incentive.

  • One of the most difficult parts of crate training puppies is locking your pet in his crate for the first (and second, and third, and… times). Here is a trick I learned a long time ago.

    With my dog inside the crate and eating, I lock the door, but only for the duration of his meal. Even if he notices that I locked the door, most likely, he will be too busy eating to express his displeasure. As soon as he finishes eating, I open the door. As you repeat this exercise, keep the door locked a little longer each time.

  • Always praise your puppy for doing things right. Did he just enter his crate for the first time? Or maybe he didn’t cry when you locked the door? I am sure you’ll agree these milestones deserve some praise and a treat or two!
  • Don’t try to accomplish too much too soon. As you begin crate training your puppy, keep the sessions short and gradually increase the training time when your puppy is ready.
  • A crate is the most valuable tool for training puppies. But to get the most benefits out of crate training, your puppy can’t associate his crate with anything negative. So, never use it for punishment.

Housebreaking your new puppy is going to take patience. You should begin to housebreak as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Puppies need to relieve themselves approximately six times a day. A puppy should be taken out immediately after each meal since a full stomach puts pressure on the colon and bladder.

A puppy is not physically able to control the muscle that allows him to “hold it” until he is about 12 weeks of age. Before this time, good housebreaking routines should be practiced to avoid having your puppy urinate and defecate all over your house. Watch for signs of urination or defecation, such as turning in circles. Take your puppy out often. Using a crate or confining your puppy to a small part of the house that has easy clean up floors are some ways to ensure your puppy does not urinate all over your house. It is much harder to housebreak a puppy if he smells is urine in places you do not wish him to relief himself.

There are many different methods in which you can housebreak your pet, however I find Crate training the most effective. Whichever way you choose, it is important to understand your puppy. Dogs want to please; the trick is to make them understand what it is you want from them.

Dogs do not think the way humans do. When you are unhappy with your dog, it assumes that whatever it is doing at the exact moment you show disapproval – is the thing that is upsetting you.

For example:

If your puppy relieves himself on your floor and you show your disapproval five minutes after he has committed the act, the puppy will think that the mess on the floor is bad. He will not relate to the fact that it was the act of relieving himself on your floor that you disapprove of. The dog will eliminate, see the mess and get worried; you are now going to be unhappy. This is the reason so many dogs will relieve themselves in inappropriate places and look really guilty about it, yet they continue to do it. Dogs want to please, right?

Some owners start to think that their dog is being sneaky when really it does not fully understand what it is doing wrong. It knows the mess upsets you but does not understand that it should stop “making” the mess. To your dog, these two things: “the mess” and “the act” are unrelated.

The trick is to catch your dog in the act and make him understand. You do not need to hit your dog. The tone of your voice is enough to make the dog see you are unhappy.

A firm “Eh! Or other correction sound.  You are not allowed to go in the house. “Eh!” or other correction sound is all that is needed.

Immediately take your dog outside to the appropriate place. Wait for your dog to go again and when and if he does, praise him. Important: Always praise your dog after he eliminates in the appropriate place.

Crate Training Caution:

Before you crate train, please be aware: a dog that is left in a crate all day long, gets let out in the evening after work for a few hours and put back in the crate for the night can become neurotic, destructive, unhappy and noisy.

If you work all day, it is recommended that you find someone who can take your dog out for a long walk in the afternoon. If this is not possible only use the crate at night.

If you must leave your dog all day long every day and you have nobody to let the dog out during the day, you should find a room without a rug, put down Pooch Pads Reusable Housebreaking Pads, food, water and toys.

You should set up the room so that the bed and food are at one end and the pee pads at the other. Spread the toys in the center of the room. Dogs are not fish. They need to find something to occupy their mind, so give your dog plenty of toys. It is said that dogs are den animals and like the crate, but even a den animal would go crazy if it was lock up all day long.

You must be willing to invest time and energy for just a few short weeks in housetraining. The effort you put in now will last for the rest of your pet’s life.

The crate training method is as follows. Buy a crate and for the first 3 to 4 weeks keep your puppy in it when you are not with him. Make sure the crate is not too big. It should be large enough for the puppy’s bed, but no larger. Dogs do not want to soil their bed and the use of a crate teaches them to control their urge to eliminate.

You must maintain an eagle eye at all times. As soon as you see him pacing, sniffing around, and turning in circles, immediately take him outside. He is telling you “I am going to go pee pee somewhere, and this carpet looks like as good a place as any.” NO, you do not have time to put on your shoes, just go.

Be patient and do not rush the little guy. He may have to go several times in one “pit stop.” Give him about 10 minutes before taking him back inside. Do not play with him while you are on this mission. Let him know this is a business trip.

Make sure you take him out after every meal and play session BEFORE you put him back in his crate. Be consistent and establish a schedule. Pay attention to your puppy’s behaviour so you can develop a schedule that works for you and the pup. When does your puppy naturally defecate? In the morning? 10 minutes after eating? Around bedtime? You may have to make some compromises.

Be fair to your puppy. He cannot be expected to stay alone in his crate for endless hours and not relieve himself. During your work days, you will need to have someone go to your home at least once (lunch time is good) to let the puppy out. Take him for a long walk. Your dog is not a fish and he needs something to occupy his mind.

Make sure everyone who is involved in the housebreaking process is using the same spot in the yard and the same word. Everyone should agree on the place they will take the puppy. The odour from the previous visits will cause the puppy to want to go in that spot.

Use a simple word like “Potty/Weewees” when taking your puppy to the chosen spot. Use this word consistently and later this word will help build communication between the family and the dog. When you notice him going toward the door and you say “Potty” he can say “Yup, that’s where I need to go,” or, “Forget it. I am getting back up on the couch for some shut eye.”

Until your puppy is about 5 months old you will need to take him out frequently and keep that eagle eye on him. But before you know it, you are going to be able to trust and communicate with your new pet. And he will learn that when he pleases you by going out to do his business, he gets more freedom in the house.

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