Human Body Language and Dog Behavior

Webinar presented by ASPCA:

- Heather Mohan-Gibbons, RVT, ACAAB, CBCC-KA, Director of Applied Research & Behavior
- Trish McMillan Loehr, CPDT, Director of Applied Research & Behavior

The way humans use body language and the choices we give dogs have profound effects on the dogs' behavior. Animal welfare professionals who understand how to effectively use their body language will provide dogs with more sound assessments, and will reduce bites and improve quality of life for the dogs in their care. Webinar attendees will learn why the dominance model is outdated and how to identify other ways to interact with dogs (including shy and aggressive ones) for a positive outcome.

This free, 60-minute webinar is geared towards animal shelter staff/volunteers and veterinary staff. It is also useful for dog trainers, daycare owners and groomers.

If you are already a Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine (CBCC), you are eligible for 1 CEU credit from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) after you watch the recording in its entirety; to get your credit submitted to CCPDT, email your CCPDT number. We will submit CCPDT information once per month.

This webinar recording has been approved for 1 CEU by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants(IAABC). To receive credit after you watch the full live session, email us a request.

Top Tips from this Webinar

Myth buster — You CAN Feed a Barking Dog
"A lot of trainers will tell you never to feed a barking dog, as that will reinforce their bad behavior," says Trish McMillan Loehr. But Loehr counters, "Take the barkiest dog at the shelter and approach him over and over to toss him a treat; he will soon realize that the person approaching is not a threat — they're bringing delicious snacks after all and he will likely lose his motivation to bark. You may start seeing friendly body language instead!" Check out the webinar recording to see Loehr demonstrate her approach.

Myth buster — Don't Limit Choices; Give More of Them
"One of the biggest mistakes handlers make is limiting choices," says Heather Mohan-Gibbons. When dogs can move more freely, they can use their body as it was designed and you will see more subtle and diverse behaviors. When you remove choices (like holding the leash tightly or cornering the dog), you are more likely to see defensive behaviors like biting and lunging. Allowing a dog the choice to move their body away — for example, to pull their head out of your hands while performing the Look item on SAFER — not only results in a valid assessment but also prevents a bite from occurring due to no other options.

Myth buster — Nix the Dominance Model
It is an outdated misconception that humans should be dominant over dogs, and to label a dog as "dominant" as though it is a personality trait. When we try to act like a dog by using muzzle grabs, alpha rolls and scruff shakes, we likely appear unpredictably aggressive through the dog's eyes. Dogs don't see us as dogs, so let's act like a human! We can use quiet, non-threatening body language and instead consider what is reinforcing any behavior. For example, a dog may be jumping for attention, not because he is "dominant."

Myth buster — Don't Wrap the Leash Around Your Hand
This could cause your injury to your hand or wrist. Instead, here are some tips for properly holding a leash:

  • Slip your thumb through the handle of the leash. If you are taking the dog for a sniffing walk on a long leash, or if you have a dog who doesn't pull, close your hand — and this is all you'll need to do.
  • If you need the dog to be a little closer to you, loop the leash over your thumb, and then fold it a few times in your hand until you have the length of leash you need.
  • For maximum control and safety, make sure the leash is coming out of the bottom of your hand (near your pinkie finger) when you are finished folding.
  • If the dog is pulling hard, simply point one hip in the direction of the pull, with your legs shoulder-length apart. The dog will not get any give in the leash and will likely stop pulling.

Check out Loehr's blog for even more info on proper leash technique.

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