TTL 1: Canine Communication Part 1

If you haven't read the intro to this Training The Leader series, do so HERE.

Pre-curser: I have no "formal" education on anything to do with dogs. My knowledge has come from countless hours doing my own research, working with my mentors, and getting my own hands-on experience with hundreds of different dogs over the years. My favourite part about dog training and behaviour studies is that it feels like a puzzle of a photo that isn't always clear. You have to look at the whole situation in order to give an answer that may just be your best guess anyway. And then if your guess is wrong, you try different tools and techniques until you find one that works. Now that's out of the way, let's begin!

After 2 days of training Sophie with the pack, the first major point I decided to touch on was Dog Communication. I believe that this really is the best place to start for a couple of reasons:

  • Having a general knowledge of how dogs communicate and how they use their body language will give you cues on how best to approach and handle them.

  • If you can't tell the difference between fear and confidence or playfulness and aggression (for example) in your pack, then your ability to monitor and manage your pack's interactions is greatly hindered

  • If you don't understand what a dog is trying to tell you, you are running the risk of losing that dog's respect and derailing any relationship you might build.

So pretty much, if you don't have this knowledge, you're hooped. Fair warning, once you spend a little bit of time learning about this, you'll see it everywhere!

What is Dog Communication? It is exactly how it sounds. It is how dogs communicate with each other, their environment and us.

How do dogs communicate? Primarily through Body Language, or non-verbal communication. If you watch two dogs meet on the street, play in the park, or interact with a human, there is the potential to see a multitude of different body language cues that will give you a really good idea of what the dog is trying to say.

And when I say "good idea of what the dog is trying to say" I do not mean a dictionary that attaches words to each cue. I see it more as describing an energetic state. And then we, as humans, attach words and feelings to each state so that we can better understand and relate to our canine companions.

Just like with humans, all dogs are different and communicate in slightly different ways. So learning your dog's specific body language cues is just as important as learning the general ones.

What are Calming/Cut-off Signals? If you know a little bit about dog communication and behaviour, then you have probably heard this term before. A calming/cut-off signal is something your dog will do to (a) show that it is uncomfortable or stressed, (b) avoid conflict or threats, (c) try to calm other dogs/humans down or (d) calm themselves down.

Not every body language cue is a Calming Signal, but I see calming signals as the most important ones that we as humans should be able to recognize. This is for our own safety and that of our dogs.

Can I use my own body to communicate with my dog? There are lots of people that say that presenting your body in a confident way - chest out, good posture, strong pose - will help communicate to your dog that they can trust and follow you (as an example). I have also heard lots of people say that by acting out a dog calming signal (example: yawning), you can actually help to calm your dog down if it is uncertain/stressed. I am a strong believer of the first belief, but I would add that carrying yourself with good posture to show strength and confidence actually makes you feel strong and confident which may impact your dog more than the pose (as an example). As for the second belief, I think it highly depends on the dog and the situation, but it can't hurt to try!

Sound good so far? Continue Onto Part 2!