Friday, April 2, 2010

More Than Meets The Eye: Dog Language And Beyond Part I

Ever since I got involved with dogs, learning to understand them has become my quest. Understanding your dog is crucial if you want to share a fulfilling life with him. Miscommunication can hurt any relationship. If you don't understand your dog and your dog doesn't understand you, your lives will be filled with frustration and disappointments.

It seems that the main focus today is on training our dogs. Certainly, training your dog is important.

The two fundamental questions in dog training are these:
What do I teach my dog?
How do I teach my dog?

What do I teach my dog?

Training your dog doesn't just mean teaching him tricks. Teaching your dog tricks is fun and it does have it's value. But it is important to go beyond that. What you need to teach your dog is what is his place in your pack, what are your expectations of him and what can he expect from you.

Your dog needs to have an understanding of what you want him to do in all situations of your daily lives. You need to figure out what it is and then explain this to your dog. Which brings us to the question:

How do I teach my dog?

The answer to this is a bit more complicated. Even though many dog training methods share similar principles, there seem to be as many opinions on how to train a dog as there are experts. I recommend doing what I did – check them out and pick the one that feels right to you.

Why isn't there just one way of training a dog which all experts could agree on? That is a good question. It would certainly make our lives easier. But if the experts couldn't disagree with one another, what would be the fun in that?

I think the real reason behind that is, though, that the interpretation of dogs' thinking vary from expert to expert. Here is a good example. Should you be the alpha dog or not? And what does being the alpha dog mean? Will your dog accept you as the alpha even though you're a different species? Watch the experts argue over that ...

What I find interesting is that in the olden days people never heard of these things and yet men and dogs seemed to get along much better. Why would that be? Does our way of living today put additional strain on our relationship with dogs? Do our expectations make less and less sense to our dogs?

Starting with the basics

There are some things all experts seem to agree on, so why not start with those. Starting with basic understanding of dogs' language will help you understand what your dog is saying. There are some very good books on dog language available, some of which I reviewed in my earlier posts. These should give you a solid foundation to build on.

What you're dog is saying and what he is feeling are very closely related. So you are now another step closer to understanding your dog.

This will also help you to communicate to your dog more clearly and you are off to a good start. This will make any teaching much easier.

Back in my old country, I went to take some English courses. Our teacher was from Canada. He didn't speak a word of Czech, and we didn't speak a word of English. How do you think our classes went? I can tell you, it was a  quite a struggle to learn anything at all.

Learning from your dog

The same applies to learning dog language from your dog without a decent foundation. However, once you know some basics, you can learn a lot very quickly by observing your dog, other dogs, and their interactions. Watch how your dog interacts with you or other dogs with the 'dictionary' in your mind.

Understanding is the key

Here is a good example of what happens if you don't understand what your dog is saying. You come home from work and your dog is really excited to see you. He'll come running up and pee. You get upset that your supposedly house-trained dog peed in the house and you yell at him. And he pees some more. Now you're really angry that your dog is trying to spite you.

But your dog is not trying to spite you. What he's doing is submissive peeing. Do you think that getting angry with him is going to help you to teach him not to do that?

Understanding is the prerequisite to teaching.

You are not alone. Your dog wants to make your relationship work at least as much as you do. But if there is a language barrier between you, you won't get very far.

Learn to speak dog. You and your dog will both be happier for that.

Jana

Related Articles:
A Word on Training
Book Review: Tail Talk
Book Review: How To Speak Dog
Book Review: How Dogs Think
Book Review: The Other End Of The Leash
Book Review: On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals

2 comments

  1. That happens to my supposedly "housebroken" 9-month-old puppy. So what does "submissive peeing" means? How do you stop that and from the yelling (tone of voice) the dog should know that you are not happy with the peeing. What's the best way to handle and prevent that?

    Thanks,
    Marie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Submissive peeing generally means that he is trying to appease you. He's trying to make himself young and vulnerable to you most likely because he feels intimidated.

    He KNOWS from your voice that your not happy and is trying to avert aggression. So first thing you need to do is to stop yelling, sorry. The more yelling the more submissive peeing.

    Ideally don't say anything when you come home, whether he pees or not. Better yet, try completely ignore him at first. Wait until he settles down somewhere and call him over and greet him in a friendly manner.

    You might let him out to potty right away, whether he peed or not. All very calmly and quietly.

    ReplyDelete

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