Have you ever noticed how your dog often flinches or looks despondent when you hug it? Or no matter how far you throw out your arms and lean forward, coaxing your dog enthusiastically and affectionately, your dog will not come when called? Well, the problem might have nothing to do with the usual explanations: bad breeding, lack of consistency, or lack of training time. While these are all important, you may simply be sending
your dog the wrong messages with your body language.
Because we are primates, our body language is very different than the body language of canines. We lean forward towards a person if we want their attention. For a dog, leaning forward is a signal of dominance. We put our hand on each other’s shoulders as a gesture of affection, or stroke the top of one’s head. In dog language, these are again expressions of dominance, and can be interpreted as pushy. That is why when a dog has the habit of submissive urination, one of the remedies is not to lean forward and pat the dog on the head when greeting it. Without the dominant body language, the dog, or puppy usually, feels less intimidated and won’t submissively urinate. Some dogs, who are naturally either very dominant or very submissive, are uncomfortable with being stroked on the head, and it is better to stroke them on their chests.
A common problem is the recall, or “come” command. An often effective remedy for a dog that will not come when called is to change your body language. Instead of leaning forward, turn your back on the dog and crouch down. This is a calming signal, a gesture that is inviting. Watch dogs greet each other. They usually turn their backs to each other and sniff the ground before engaging in play. If that doesn’t work, running away from your dog, your back turned, will invite him to come towards you. Clap your hands and say “come.” The staccato rhythm of clapping hands or clucking, what we do with horses to encourage them to speed up, encourages your dog to move, and the body language encourages it to move towards you.
Watch your body language as you train, and be aware of what your dog knows. Does it understand the spoken command or the body language you use, the gesture? Some dogs become so used to being lured down by a treat that they never really learn the verbal down. This makes it even more difficult to teach a distant down, when the time comes. Do you snap your fingers ore point for the sit command? None of this gesturing is a problem, it’s simply an example of your dog learning first from your body language. You can, however, “fade” a gesture by using the verbal command first, waiting, then giving the gesture. Eventually you can do half the gesture, then eventually, if you work on it, your dog will learn the verbal command and won’t need the prompt.
Primates also use their voices very differently than canines. A dog who is calm and in control is usually silent. Dogs bark to defend territory or if very excited. Puppies tend to bark and use their voices more than dogs do. On the other hand, we humans associate a loud voice with command. In a dog’s world, someone who yells is behaving like a puppy or sending out an alarm. So when you get frustrated that your dog isn’t listening to you, and you yell at it, you are essentially going to be associated with a puppy, not someone in command. So it is important in training to use a firm, low voice, and to not repeat commands. You will be more respected and your dog will learn to listen to you better.
Adjusting your body language to that of the canine world will improve your training and your relationship with your dog. We carry with us the unconscious habits of communicating like the primates we are, so it takes a very conscious effort to change our ingrained habits in training. But once you get the hang of it, it will come naturally to you to gesture towards your dog in a way that will make sense to it, and both of you will be happier for the effort you’ve made.
Recommended reading: The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
Article submitted by: © Kika Dorsey (Biography & Additional Information)
Article courtesy of Pet360