8 Tips for Brushing Up Your Canine Communication Skills
Animal welfare professionals who understand canine body language may place dogs more appropriately, conduct more predictive assessments, avoid bites, and provide better quality of life for dogs in their care. Learning to understand how to interact with dogs—and how they interact with each other—is like learning a new language. It takes time, patience—and practice, practice, practice! These tips focus on letting dogs be dogs, ensuring your safety and theirs, and becoming an expert observer.
First Train Yourself
Before you interact with dogs, hone your observational skills so you can properly and objectively label body language. For example, note that a dog’s eyes are squinty and his mouth is open rather than “This dog is happy.”
Watch Dogs Play
Watching dogs play at the shelter or observing your own dogs at home provides plenty of great fodder for studying canine behaviors and interactions. Record short videos and write down your observations to train your eyes to correctly identify what you see.
Give Them Roomies
Co-kenneling dogs can be wonderful enrichment for sociable animals and allows adopters to imagine what the dogs would look like cuddled up with their own pets. Ideal candidates for canine roommates are similar in age, size, and play style. Just note, it’s important to separate dogs at feeding time and when giving enrichment items that the dogs might squabble over.
Feed a Barking Dog
Some people will tell you never to feed a barking dog, as they reason that will reinforce bad behavior. If a person approaches over and over to toss treats to a dog who’s barking in the kennel, he will soon realize that they’re not a threat—they’re bringing delicious snacks, after all. He will likely lose his motivation to bark, and you may start seeing friendly body language instead. View the webinar Human Body Language And Dog Behavior to see a demonstration of this approach.
Act Like a Human
It’s an outdated misconception that humans should be dominant over dogs. 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, and are likely to respond better to quiet, non-threatening body language.
Multiply Your Safety
Walking a dog who’s potentially double trouble? Use two handlers, each holding one leash, to ensure more control.
If a loose dog comes charging, these key actions will make you appear less threatening:
- Stop all movement
- Avoid eye contact
- Turn sideways
- Speak to the dog in a calm, friendly voice
Know When to Step In
It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between two dogs playing or fighting. Here are some signs to look for when determining if you should intervene.
- Bared teeth, ears forward
- Head or tail remains high and stiff
- Body is stiff, not loose and wiggly
- Escape, avoidance, or hiding behaviors
- One dog cowers, tucks tail, or whines when another is too rambunctious
If you’re not sure whether both dogs are having fun, try leading the more excited dog away, and see if the other dog follows playfully.
Learn more on this topic:
These tips are from our popular Canine Communications webinar series. All of the following webinar recordings are free and can earn you CEU credit from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Follow the links below to get the recordings or grab the slides and handouts:
We have lots more on this subject:
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