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Dog Behaviour, Communication & Body Language

In this post, I will look at natural dog behaviours and how we can utilise natural canine communication signals to get the best from our dogs.

What do we mean by dog behaviour?

Behaviour is the term we use to describe the way an animal responds to a particular situation or stimulus. Its all about natural body language.

The study of any animal behaviour is to identify the similarities and differences between species.  So, when we liken canine behaviour  to human behaviour or that of any other species that live in family groups, we are doing it with educated thought and experiences. Certainly, we have to avoid putting or ascribing human emotions or thoughts to those actions. As with any behaviours, we translate  as best we can with the information at our disposal. With any reaction to any stimulus we can deduce as likes, dislikes and various other emotions.

Do dogs have emotions?

It has  been scientifically proven that dogs do have many similar emotions to us. Any dog owner could have told scientists that without it having to be proven in the first place.  Science does not have all answers. However, what works and is kind, does have a place in our world when we help any animal modify their behaviour. The more natural the better in my opinion. We need to be confident that we work with them to boost their confidence and not crush their self esteem and their natural ability of communication.

Educate and modify dog behaviour naturally by working with their body language rather than train

That’s my big thing, I strive to modify behaviour naturally, working with canine communication skills. Accept that any dogs behaviour is either a cry for help to be understand, asking a question or training you to their wants regardless. Every dog is an individual, each will  react to any given stimuli slightly differently dependent on their personality and character. Embrace that and help them modify that behaviour through guidance  to another more thoughtful canine expression. Self control is the key. More detail further down.

Self control and patience.

In my view as a behaviourist,

  • Patience and self-control are the two greatest gifts that we can give our dogs.
  • Guide and educate with age appropriate expectations, boundaries and bucket loads of empathy and patience.
  •  Build a relationship with your dog. One of a mutual respect and understanding
  • Embrace who and what they are without expecting them to be the perfect adult before they have gone through the puppy and adolescent stages.

Most behaviours are learnt, so make the learning positive and a big reminder to you: dogs learn by watching and mirroring. Guide without micro managing and let them blossom into well balanced adults who can trust you and understand you perfectly.

How dogs communicate

We understand what dogs mean by their behaviour towards us, towards other dogs or any stimulus for that matter. When we modify behaviour, we must use their language as best we can, to convey a message loud and clear.

We remove puppies very early from their mothers and siblings. The move is often into a home with no other dog . Quickly they have to learn our language. More importantly we have to learn theirs or confusion arises. With that confusion, comes bigger and more exuberant behaviours. Listen to your dogs body language, hes saying important stuff.

In any situation with your dog. First ask yourself, how would you feel?

Take a step back and look at the world through your dogs eyes, your puppies eyes or your new rescues eyes. Where have they come from? Think for a moment how overwhelming new things are. Dogs are lead by scent and our scent needs to be that of calm low adrenaline. If we give them too much too soon they stress, then we stress. Its a pot on the simmer ready to boil over at some stage in adolescence ( usually between 9 to 18 months)

Understand that your dogs are not naughty when they display a behaviour you don’t like. It is  simply their way to convey a message. Help them through with empathy. Guide them through to make great choices. To display good manners that fit within our expectations and the world around us.

Respect their language, work with them rather than control those outbursts and they will trust, love and respect you back.

Turid Ruggas  “On Talking Terms With Dogs, Calming Signals”

This is a fabulously insightful book. Turid lays out pictures and descriptions of various communication signals between dogs. It explores what a dog does (when connected with their own language) in any given situation. We need to replicate these actions rather than suppress the action and crush self esteem. For instance…

Have you seen another dog ask another dog to sit?

Have you seen another dog ask another dog to sit if he is being less than thoughtful in approach? Or Look at me? or heel for that matter? Dogs left to their own devises on the streets or in the wild just get on and educate their own in their own time. They protect the little ones from danger. The dog who takes on responsibility for the family group is quiet, calm and caring, not a bossy boots. Be that person for your dog.

You wouldn’t try control a gorilla, you’d probably respect what he tells you. Do the same for any living being.

Look to the more natural in bringing up your puppy, re-educating your older dog or rescue. Take time and be patient …  you have all the time in the world to get it right (If you rush, you’re more likely come a cropper and so will your dog) Its so much easier for you and your dog to slowly get things right, than make rushed mistakes and firefight issues that could be avoided with initial patience.

A dog or puppy will learn by going through the behaviour and given the time with guidance to make a better choice. Be gentle and proactive. Refrain from micromanaging using human made control tactics. Do what should come naturally to a dog and then he will naturally do it. You need to be his teacher, to take over where his mother left off. Or start all over with an older dogs who has lost the subtleties of his language.

Let your dog express himself within sensible, safe guidelines and boundaries. Answer the action ( it’s a question) if he gets it wrong. Guide him by natural means with calming signals. They are simple. Your dog will truly, instinctively understand your wishes.  Embrace him as a dog and his individuality.

You  need a friend not a robot. He wants a friend he can rely on not a controlling partner.

A happy, well balanced dogs will:

  • Exhibit Self control and patience around food
  • Exhibit Self control and gentleness when environments change
  • Feel supported when things happen out of their control which may threaten their safety
  •  Walk and play without fear or the need to challenge
  •  Relax and sleep anywhere any time

Dogs need to feel safe with all they do, where they are and who they are with.

When we feel safe we are happy. When we are with those we trust we can go anywhere with them. Play, walk and chill with them. We feel unhappy and fly off the handle or sink into quiet acceptance when we are unheard, controlled or feel out of our depth in a situation. Dogs as we do. need to feel safe with someone to trust.

How do you envisage you life with your dog?

Probably the below and more:-

  • Uncomplicated
  • Fun
  • Calming
  • Joining in with family activities rather than taking center stage.
  • Fitting into your lives with ease

  Understand all behaviour is a result of a stimuli. Its a question or a challenge from your dog to you or the stimulus.

Educating your dog is straightforward

  • Without training it to be a robot
  • Tap into natural canine body language
  • Education happens naturally in your daily life
  • A dog gets attention when he respects your space
  • Corrected quietly and calmly with no fuss
  • Time, patience and empathy is key
  • Give the power of self control and patience to your dog, its not something that has to be taught, its there, we just need to find it.

My natural method I call “The Five To Thrive” in our human world.

Cover all these areas and you will have a well behaved dog displaying calm canine body language. A dog who can be;-

  • Patient during food preparation and  feeding times
  • Relaxed during a walk and respond to our gentle requests
  • Calm and chilled when we come and go.
  • Brave when faced with situations they may see has a danger in the knowledge that we will do the right thing at the right time for them.
  • Play gently and happily with us.

Dogs have feelings: their behaviour tells all.

Dogs love, grieve, trust, like,dislike, feel happy, sad and have heaps of empathy for each other and us. They see and feel when we are sad. Dogs like us have left side gaze. They look towards our faces they  see how we feel along side smelling how we feel.
How do they actually feel inside? I’ve no idea, as much as I’ve no idea how each individual person feels with any given emotion or situation. We can only surmise on both counts. What I do know is, they share their feelings on their sleeves, sometime so subtly that only another dog can read them.
Simply watch and learn from your dog. You will see what he is saying.
Author Caroline Spencer Natural Canine Behaviourist
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2 responses to “Dog Behaviour, Communication & Body Language

  1. Thank you for your information it’s very helpful . I have a dog that with jump and nibble you all over when he first sees you . It’s bad nipping when he is really excited .
    Have you any advice for me please ?
    Thank you
    Ruth Wake

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