The more we try to catch them, the more they avoid us. Again, we are unwittingly offering a posture of threat and intimidation. Primate hovering is a very off-putting posture for dogs. Dogs back away in fear or submission, or worse, bite in an aggressive response.
Prompted by ill-advised old-fashioned thinking, some humans still use force alpha-rolls and scruff shakes to overpower and dominate their dogs. Most dog body language is very subtle and in large part ritualistic, including the belly-up position which is usually offered voluntarily by the subordinate pack member, not forced by the higher ranking one. Dogs experience the alpha roll as a violent, terrifying attack, and some will respond out of a likely belief that they are fighting for their very lives. This man was mystified when the dog, who was romping loose at a dog park, suddenly shied away from him, growling and raising the hair on his back.
All the man did to elicit this response was to bend over, staring at and calling to the dog. See the next chapter to find out what happens next! The good news is that both of our species are pretty darned adaptable. We can teach our dogs to appreciate some of our bizarre primate behaviors, and we can learn to use canine body talk to our advantage. We humans pretty much insist on hugging our dogs. Rather, the hug triggers a subconscious response— Threat! Fight or Flee!!
Using counter-conditioning and desensitization to change his natural association with close contact from bad Danger! Run Away! To do this, hold the dog at a level of restraint with which he is very comfortable—perhaps just a light touch of your hand on his back. Feed him a tiny tidbit of something wonderful, and remove your hand.
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Repeat this step until he turns his head eagerly toward you in anticipation of his tidbit when he feels your hand touch his back. Now, very slightly increase the intensity of your touch, either by holding your hand on his back longer and feeding him several treats in a row, perhaps by pressing a tiny bit harder on his back, or by moving your arm a little farther over his back, so your hand brushes his ribs on the other side. The more your dog accepts your touch, the quicker you will be able to move through the counter-conditioning and desensitization process.
Be careful to increase intensity of only one stimulus at a time.
For example, work on length of time until he is perfectly comfortable with long hand-rests, then shorten the time while you work on increased pressure. When he is comfortable with each new stimulus, add them together. When he can handle more pressure happily, start doing more pressure for longer periods of time.
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Then ease up on both of these while you work on moving more of your arm over his back. At the same time, of course, it is vitally important to teach children and uninitiated adults not to hug dogs unless they know the dog very well and are totally confident that the dog is fully comfortable with such intimate contact.
Even then, young children should never be left unattended with any dog. The same approach used to teach your dog to appreciate a hug works with many culture clash behaviors. If you want your dog to love having his collar grabbed, pair the action with cheese, or hot dog, or chicken. This particular exercise should be taught to every dog. You can also teach your dog that eye contact is a good thing, by encouraging him to look into your eyes, and rewarding him when he does.
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The clicker is very useful here. Have your dog practice this with other humans as well, if you want him to be comfortable with that pervasive and offensive primate penchant for staring rudely into canine eyes. While you are teaching your dog to understand and accept primate language, you can also learn and use canine body language.
This will greatly enhance your relationship and your training program, since your dog can respond very quickly when he realizes you are speaking Dog. McConnell describes a process that she calls body blocking, which simply means taking up a space to prevent your dog from doing so. Tess starts to get up to get it. Rather than grabbing at her or yelling STAY!
McConnell reminds us that the sooner you react the better, and says that once you get good at it, you can simply lean forward an inch or two to express your intent to occupy the space.
You can also use body blocking with dogs who jump on you. Next time you are sitting in a chair and your wild Westie makes a running charge for your lap, clasp your hands against your stomach and lean slightly forward, blocking the space with your shoulder or elbow. It also helps to look away, rather than make eye contact. You may have to do several repetitions of this, especially if your dog has had a lot of practice lap-leaping, but it can be very effective if you are consistent.
He can learn to wait for permission to jump up on your lap or on the sofa next to you. I used body blocking for years without thinking about it or defining it as clearly as Mc-Connell does. When our four dogs are all doing Wait at the door, I can release them one by one, by name, in part because I use subtle body blocking movements to indicate which dogs are to remain in place.
As with the Stay blocking, the more you do it, the more subtle the movements can become, because dogs are so good at reading tiny body language signals. Move run!
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She will follow the leader, instead of moving away from an intimidating direct approach. Look away from the challenging stare of an aggressive dog instead of sending your own direct-eye-contact challenge back, and you are more likely to escape from the experience bite-free. We, as the supposedly more intelligent species, should be able to understand and forgive canine behaviors that clash with our human social expectations. It seems that our dogs are pretty darned good at understanding and forgiving ours, thank goodness.
As you and your dog journey together through life, each translating primate to canine and vice versa, appreciate the great value of this cultural diversity.
Positive trainers the world over teach their clients the importance of having their pups accept handling and restraint. There are two methods primarily in use, and while they look similar on the surface and both are considered by many trainers to be positive, there is a subtle difference that makes one more positive than the other.
He learns that when he is touched, eventually restrained hugged , he gets good stuff—yummy treats, human attention, scratches under the ears. He comes to love being touched, handled, even hugged, because he has come to associate those things with very good stuff. In —R training, the puppy is gently restrained, and if he struggles, is held until he stops struggling, and is then released.
He learns to tolerate being handled or restrained, because struggling makes it last longer. He still thinks being held is not a pleasant thing, and he does what he needs to do to make it go away as quickly as possible. Both methods can teach puppies to accept being held, hugged, and otherwise restrained and handled.
Which would you prefer for your puppy? Play bows. Averted eyes. Tail wags. Flattened ears. Our dogs are not only masters at reading our body language, but also experts at sending messages with an incredibly expressive tool—their own bodies. If we humans were half as good at reading their signals as they are at reading ours, there would be a lot less miscommunication between our two species. Is he tensing up, readying himself for a battle to defend himself against a perceived threat?
Or is he playfully anticipating a romp with a canine pal he enjoys roughhousing with? You can start by studying photographs of dog body language, then watching videos that you can rewind and watch repeatedly, and finally honing your skills on live dogs. Dog parks, doggie daycare centers, and training class playgroups are ideal places to practice your observation skills. For each of the pictures provided, cover the analysis, jot down your observations of the key body parts visible, using the accompanying grammar key, then compare your answers to mine. We can notify you when this item is back in stock.
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Gail Tamases Fisher. Mandy Book. Nigel Reed. Steve Mann. Kevin Behan. Terry Albert.