Human Body Language
by Robin MacFarlane
Are you confusing your dog?
There are times when we get stuck trying to train our dogs. We're trying to teach the dog to stop jumping on us, or to Stay in a certain place or position, but the dog keeps making mistakes and our frustration grows. Often times we end up thinking the dog is just being stubborn!
There certainly are times that dogs will refuse to do as asked, but more often than not there are other underlying reasons. Typically those reasons have nothing to do with actually refusing or being stubborn.
Often times the dog just really isn't clear on what is expected.
And sometimes that lack of clarity is our fault because we are giving mixed messages.
One of the common ways we cause confusion is through the mixed signals body language gives off. Dogs are very in tune with non-verbal signals. How we move and hold our posture while training and interacting can say more than we realize.
We may say we want the dog to Come to us, but if our body posture is aggressive looking it will not be inviting. While a well-trained dog will listen and continue to move forward regardless, it is more likely they are going to do it with hesitation and decreased enthusiasm.
A few steps backward or crouching down by bending at the knees is a much more enticing and friendly gesture for a dog that is just learning or showing any hesitation.
The same backward lean or movement can also be why many dogs continue to jump on us, despite our repeated verbal protests to such action. Dogs interpret movement away from them as a reason to pursue. Dogs herd, chase, and follow things that move away from them.
By the same token, dogs are typically more inhibited by movement that comes toward them. If we don't want our dogs to jump on us, it is more effective to take a step forward toward them when they are about to jump rather than flinching backward. Movement backward invites. Movement forward inhibits.
It is also not unusual for dogs to be hesitant around big, imposing looking men. That person may be the gentlest personality, but the body stature alone can intimidate a dog that is not accustomed to it. If that person crouches down and turns the body slightly away from the dog, without direct eye contact, it helps the dog build some confidence, and they are more likely to approach. As soon as the man stands up, the dog will often flee backward.
The flip side of that are people who are smaller or carry themselves with very soft body language. They are taken advantage of by dogs who will jump all over them, or drag them down the street on leash. Dogs don't follow weak body language, they often exploit it.
To gain the respect of a dog that is taking advantage, words alone won't do the trick. The body language has to have the same intent as the words.
While all of this body language disparity can be overcome through training, it will make the process easier and make the dog successful much more quickly if you learn how to use your body language to your advantage, depending on the outcome you are looking for.
If you aren't sure how you appear when you're working with your dog, try practicing in front of a full-length mirror or video yourself. It will make analyzing those posture nuances much easier.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.