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.



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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Aggression & Some Reasons Behind It

Whether we like it or not, we need to recognize that the wide range of Behaviours labeled as aggression are communications from the dog to us. Dogs do not snap, snarl, growl, or bite without reason, and those reasons can range from feeling afraid to being confidently challenging. If you are able to recognize early signs of dog feeling uneasy or pressured in some way (whether you intended that response or not!), you can avoid pushing dog into feeling the need for more dramatic or more dangerous aggressive Behaviour. Many of the dogs presented to me as aggressive are often quite fair about offering warning signs, but sadly, people have not been able to accurately read the signals the dog is sending. How frustrating that must be for the dog, who may then feel the need to escalate his own Behaviour in order to make his message clear!

Here are some typical clues that a dog is feeling pressured, and shifting from relaxed to another state of mind:

Shifts in breathing – Typically, a dog who is feeling uncertain or threatened or is annoyed exhibits changes in the way he breathes. The breathing slows, becomes very shallow or is actually held (no breaths!). Watch rib cage or flank area ? a normal relaxed dog is visibly breathing! A dog who closes his mouth, even briefly, may be offering a warning. Breathing may be monitored by visual observation, by hearing the shifts, and also by noting changes in the dog’s breathing through your hands (helpful when you are handling a dog up close and may not be able to easily visually observe such changes).

Changes in whiskers – Learn to recognize what’s normal for your dog in terms of how he holds his whiskers when relaxed. A stressed dog (fearful, confused, overwhelmed) often folds the whiskers back against the muzzle. A dog who is angry or challenging may have whiskers brought forward.

Changes in head & eye movements – A relaxed, comfortable dog has slow, easy movements of the head and eyes. The more rapid the movements you observe in eyes and head, the more panicky or fearful the dog is becoming, though this may rapidly escalate to a complete freeze of all movements but with the head and eyes turned slightly or markedly away from what concerns the dog. On the other end of the scale, the dog who becomes very still and stares at something with ears up and fixed (think “locked on target”) is heading up the scale towards possible aggression or predatory Behaviour, with the whole body held quite still but oriented towards the target. Less dramatic but important shifts in head & eyes: dog looks away or turns head away from person or other dog; this dog is actively avoiding confrontation.

Freezing – An overwhelmed dog may literally freeze – no movement, all body posture pulled back and down and/or away from threat. The danger here is that dogs in freeze may explode into fight or flight if pushed further. Do not mistake a frozen dog for one who is gladly accepting whatever is happening – a common mistake that leads to “he just exploded with no warning.” A dog who is accepting of whatever is happening continues to have normal movement of the body, head & eyes; a dog who is simply enduring an unwelcome or unpleasant event often freezes when he cannot escape, and thus the internal pressure continues to build as evidenced by the freeze. Should that internal pressure reach an intolerable level, the dog may explode in some dramatic Behaviours.

Changes in shape and expression of eyes – On the fearful/anxious end of the spectrum, the dog will look away from or glance sideways at the source of his problems, and the pupils may dilate considerably if the dog is really stressed. This change is due to shifts internally that result from the cascade of stress hormones (the ones that prepare a dog for flight/fight). Dogs are incredibly expressive in their eyes and facial muscles – attention to subtle changes here will pay off for anyone trying to understand the dog.

Changes in lips – Get a feel for how the dog normally looks when relaxed, particularly how he holds his mouth and lips. Are the lips held tightly? drawn back? panting? drawn forward? Tension around the lips and muzzle indicate a problem. The more fearful/anxious the dog is, the more drawn back the lips become. When a dog is becoming annoyed or angry, the lips may tighten and the corners are drawn forward; you may even see an “rumpling” of the whisker bed, giving the dog’s muzzle a “lumpy” look which precedes an actual snarl.

Increase in muscular tension – As the dog’s emotional state shifts, so will the overall tension in his body. Do not mistake stillness for “okay”! Sometimes, a dramatic shift can be seen in the dog’s feet – look for clenching of toes, a sign I often see as the dog’s fear/anxiety increases. Dogs who are confident & challenging and getting very annoyed or angry move “up” on their toes, whereas fearful dogs often clench or spread their toes preparatory to moving away (if they can). Of course, pay close attention to the degree of muscular tension throughout the dog’s body.

Overall shifts in body posture – Consider the overall “geometry” of the dog’s body posture. Calm and relaxed results in the dog being balanced, neither looking drawn forward nor drawn down and away. Fear/anxiety based response: dog backs up, turns obliquely away from the problem, may even curve his body dramatically away while holding still. This dog is trying to avoid confrontation or hoping to escape from the situation. Aroused/confident/challenging: dog comes forward, shifts to sit from down or stand from sit, all body posture aimed at person or other dog. Friendly gesture – the dog may approach with decided curves in his body, neck and tail, even a lot of wiggles, and may offer his side, often accompanied by a lot of curves through the body, neck and tail.



There are many different causes for the range of Behaviours we may label as aggressive: barking, growling, snarling, lunging, snapping, biting. However, all these Behaviours are not the same, and depending on the cause, need to be handled in specific ways. Simply labeling a dog’s Behaviour as aggressive is not informative, nor does it help you understand what may be going on in the dog’s mind.

When assessing any dog, be very specific about the Behaviours you observe, as well as the precise body posture and the situation in which the Behaviour was presented. Precisely how, when, where and in what context the dog offers these Behaviours needs to be examined in order to understand the dog.

As a rule, do not use corrections or punishment to handle Behaviour you consider aggressive. In most cases, treating any Behaviour you consider aggressive may result in the dog becoming more aggressive and possibly pushing him to escalating his own Behaviour and perhaps even biting. Remember – the dog has a reason for acting as he does, whether you understand it or not. Best rule of thumb: “Do not treat aggression with aggression of your own.”

When in doubt, ask others what they observed in the dog. Build a careful picture: When this was happening, the handler did X, and then the dog did Y. Don’t make assumptions or use non-specific language like “he freaked out”. Be specific. For example, does “freaked out” mean the dog bolted away, crashed into the wall and only then lunged forward with loud barks? Or that the dog’s pupils dilated dramatically, with ears laid back tight and then he lunged forward with a snap?

If you are unsure as to what caused the dog’s response, give the dog the benefit of the doubt and assume that the technique, equipment or handler created the problem. Above all, don’t take aggression personally! but do take it seriously as an important communication from the dog.

Here’s some typical causes for Behaviour that may be labeled as aggressive:

Pain Induced Response Typical symptoms: dog comes up lead when corrected using the lead or collar; may just snarl or growl or actually snap/bite handler. May also just yelp or scream. Possible causes: tonsillitis (common in young dogs; suggest vet check up ASAP; correction too harsh (have owner moderate signal if corrections must be used, and do consider there are many ways to train that do NOT require corrections!); collar too much physical stimulus for dog (try milder collar such as martingale type or buckle); may have damage to or soreness in neck (switch to no-pull harness)

Pain in Specific Area Typical symptoms: Dog may actively resist or growl when handler tries to force/correct or even gently model dog into position. May be seen if handler asks for quicker sit, tries to roll dog over on one hip for long down, etc. Typically seen when dog is sore in back, through hips, has panosteitis (will especially resent having long bones of the legs grabbed/handled), joint pain.

Watch dog moving and specifically check how the dog sits – in a dog who is comfortable in his body, the sit should be quick, clean with no careful “adjusting” prior to or during the sit, and feet should be neatly tucked under dog and square. ANY deviation from this points to possible problem that may be causing dog discomfort.

Suggest all dogs have x-rays of hips & knees if they are exhibiting signs of physical
discomfort. Check also for tick borne diseases, which can leave dogs with very ouchy joints. May also suggest veterinary chiropractic. Know common breed problems and be alert to them (hip/elbow dysplasia, OCD, patella problems, etc).

Redirected Aggression Typical symptoms: Redirected aggression is seen in situations where dog is fixated on another dog/animal, object or person, highly aroused and frustrated because they can’t get to them. Any interference by handler (including attempts to attract dog’s attention but especially leash corrections or hands-on corrections such as collar grabs, scruff shakes, muzzle grabs or slaps) may result in the dog re-directing his frustration onto handler. The dog may also redirect the aggression onto any other dog, person or animal in his immediate vicinity. Ideally, prevent situation which triggers this! The dog may be quite violent in redirected aggression. Damage control – gain dog’s voluntary cooperation in any way possible; do not use force to remove dog.

Rudeness by Other Dogs Typical symptoms: dog noisily warns or actually bites other dog who has gotten into his space. Key point: Dog was minding his own business and under control at owner’s side or where left, did NOT leave handler or place left to attack other dog. Watch for invasion of space by another dog, even one that is friendly; retrievers & other “non-aggressive” breeds often at fault due to their handler’s view of their dog as friendly and harmless. Most likely to trigger response in dogs with bigger personal space (working breeds, terriers).

Instruct all handlers on rude/polite dog Behaviour which includes not allowing eye contact even across the room. Keep dog who caused the incident on long line and under instructor supervision when working on recalls or long distance stays. Keep the dog who responded to the rudeness well protected by barriers or people between him and the rude dog. All handlers have an obligation to protect other dogs from their own dog’s “friendliness!” Instruct handlers of both dogs involved how to avoid problems in the future. If necessary, assign “red bandanas” to dogs needing extra space – this serves as a warning to other handlers that the Red Bandana dog should be given room and to not let their dog, however friendly, interact without specific initiation by the Red Bandana dog’s handler.

Lack of handler leadership Typical symptoms: Dog may actively resist being forced or even gently modeled into position by handler (i.e. tucked into sit or down) by growling, snapping, biting, or by wrestling, pushing handler away with feet, mouthing handler’s arms & hands. The dog is saying that handler has not earned
the right to handle him in such ways. Do NOT force the issue but find reasonable
compromise in class situation, and if at home, back off and find a way to gain voluntary submission (use of lure?) to avoid conflicts. Emphasize work on controlling resources at home to gain leadership & respect.

Overstimulation Typical symptoms: The excessive stimulation may come from the collar or lead, the handler, corrections, the overall environment, other dogs or animals. Solution: Remove dog to a “cool down zone” that offers a visual barrier and/or much more distance from other dogs/animals; reduce sensory input to the dog with quieter handling, less or no corrections, switch equipment to something milder, or change between equipment as necessary in any given situation (i.e., may need prong collar or slip when in motion but work better on slip or buckle in quieter exercises)

Many mouthy dogs respond to overstimulation by grabbing at the handler’s arms, hands, legs, feet, clothing, lead, etc. This is often not aggression but a
response to too much stimuli; attempts to use force or corrections only pour fuel on
the fire. Work quietly and reward good Behaviour – careful not to use physical praise,
big/fast hand movements or excited voice.

Fear basedTypical symptoms: Usually seen when approached by other dogs or people. May be afraid of handler; if so, watch handler’s technique – may be too harsh. Watch for grabbing of joints, pushing down on hips or back instead of tucking, holding onto legs, pulling, pushing, etc. (This could end up with the dog both afraid and in pain.) Encourage & show handler how to use softer approach. May need to switch to lure/reward only.

If afraid of other dogs, respect this, put red bandana on to remind other students. See if you can find well behaved, well socialized dog who will lay quietly in a down and
allow fearful dog to approach and sniff from behind. If afraid of people, use Dunbar’s
Treat/Retreat with all students participating to build confidence (can practice while
instructor holds each student’s dog; doubles as practice for CGC.)


Learn to identify potential problems which may result in aggressive Behaviour:
Watch for dogs with no appropriate sense of personal space & handlers who allow their dogs to invade others’ space
Watch dogs who need extra room & space (may look unsure, frightened of other dogs approaching or get stiff, bark, growl) ? offer them a red bandana to buy them the space they need
Eye contact to or from other dogs – usually accompanied by body postures (head up, tail up, stillness). This may also be true in dogs who react to eye contact from people, though they may also exhibit fearful, avoiding Behaviours.


Sometimes, aggression follows close on the heels of resistance, especially when handlers ignore the importance of resistance as meaningful information. Resistance or refusal to cooperate are important communications from dog which say he is:
Confused or doesn’t understand – back up to previous level, re-evaluate technique
Feeling afraid or anxious or simply unsure – work to alleviate fear & build confidence
Is bored (often seen with repetition of exercise dog does not find enjoyable) – STOP
Isn’t motivated (examine level of motivation) – find suitable motivation (paycheck)
Is not physically able to do as asked – evaluate dog as athlete, work with the individual dog’s limitations, do not ask for more!
Does not respect the handler sufficiently to do what he’s being asked to do in that particular situation

Possible causes for resistance:
Handler induced – watch the handler for changes in breathing, muscular tension, facial expression, movement. The dog will notice and respond to all of these!
Equipment – may be giving signals to dog that are not clear or are too clear & over stimulating or simply too harsh
Method – any technique which uses application of force may elicit reflexive resistance
from the dog. Particularly true with pull or jerk on collar – if you must use equipment to send information, try a pulsed (give & take) signal, ‘asking’ not demanding

Find a way to address the resistance, and avoid the dog feeling the need to underline how he’s feeling by escalating to more dramatic Behaviours.