DBPM–What Say You Fido?

Originally posted 5/11/12

What Say You Fido?

Learning to read canine body language is a big factor in preventing dog bites. We’ll talk about canine body language quite a bit in future posts. But, perhaps MORE important, besides just knowing how to read canine body language, is doing something about it.

It’s incredibly important to pay attention to and acknowledge your dog’s body language by making a change to a situation if your dog is becoming increasingly uncomfortable or agitated. I’m not perfect… sometimes I’m so focused on one aspect of something that I “see” and acknowledge a behavior and know it’s not a good thing but it doesn’t register until later (hindsight is 20/20) but I really try to make sure I make changes when I see a stressed dog.

This is really important because while some dogs will make their feelings more and more apparent through increasingly obvious stress signals, others are much quicker to growl, snap, or bite. With some dogs you can get away with not noticing multiple low-level warnings of discomfort and other dogs, not so much.

A few weeks ago in class we were working on classically conditioning good feelings about strangers handling a dog’s ears, feet, and tail (for the CGC test). Handlers would feed their dogs continuously as my assistant or I would gently rub their ears, or their feet or their tail. I always make a habit to ask if any dogs have issues with this type of handling so I know to go slower–but no one mentioned having a dog that had any concerns.

As I was making the rounds petting the dogs’ ears while the owners fed them, I approached a student’s dog and knelt down next to him. I frist rubbed his chest and worked my way to his ears. As soon as I started petting his ears he started moving away from me. He continued to eat but was moving as far away as possible. I was so distracted by the “goal” of the task (and the fact that he continued to eat) that I didn’t make a change based on his body language. Now, he wasn’t so over threshold that he stopped eating (not even close) but he was uncomfortable and I KNEW that but still didn’t change my behavior. After about 15-20 seconds, the interaction was over. The next time I approached to pet (whatever body part, I can’t remember), I was able to touch his chest but as soon as I moved to pet something else, he gave a “tap out” or rolled over onto his side/back. As soon as he tapped out I stopped. I needed a bigger signal than moving away while still eating, to show how much pressure I was putting on him.

If he had been a different dog, my ‘ignoring’ of his first stressed body language could have resulted in a warning snap or growl. I KNEW his body language was concerned….but didn’t DO anything about it because I was so focused on the task at hand (and with him still eating didn’t think he was over threshold). AS soon as I saw the tap out I immediately responded by giving him what he wanted, which was space. It was a great opportunity for me to explain and SHOW the class what a ‘tap out’ looks like and explain why the dog did NOT want a belly rub.

KNOWING canine body language is only 1/2 the battle. DOING something about it (when possible) is the other half.

I am happy to say the following week at class the dog who gave me a tap out was friendly and outgoing with me–probably more so than he had been previously.

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