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What Does Your Body Language Say to Your Dog?

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Forward Body Motion

Just as you can signal to a dog by adjusting your height from the floor, so can you send messages by means of your approach. A direct, full frontal approach is a confident, semi-challenging one from dog to dog or person to dog. You should never walk directly toward a dog you don't know in case he's dominant, particularly if he happens to be eating, resting, or chewing on a bone. He may bite. Also, you should never walk directly toward a dog that is fearful of people, as your sudden approach will likely be viewed as threatening, even if your words and intentions are entirely honorable. A fearful dog should always be approached indirectly using a curved trajectory.

Many of the behaviors and postures we engage in during the course of our interactions with dogs are construed or misconstrued by them in terms of body language. Sometimes they get the right message, sometimes the wrong message, and sometimes they get a message that wasn't even sent or intended. The message they perceive is synthesized as a composite of the body language signals mentioned above.

Occasionally, a dog may act as if confused when he receives conflicting messages. The constant presentation of unclear and confusing messages to a dog will likely make him anxious, bewildered, and less likely to obey. It is as if they write off the message sender as unreliable and unworthy of their attention.

To circumvent the various communication problems and utilize dogs' uncanny powers of observation to advantage:

  • Make a point of getting to know your dog – his character strengths and weaknesses.

  • Do not allow unknowledgeable people, especially young children, to interact with your dog unsupervised, and prevent any invasive or obnoxious behavior on the part of any child.

  • Learn how to act and interact properly with your dog by observing his reactions to you and others. Try not talking to him for a few hours while you are doing things together.

  • Be cognizant of canine good manners – and don't stare!

  • Teach your dog your own body language signs in the form of hand signals to accompany commands. They learn quicker and remember better when hand signals accompany verbal cues.

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