How are you doing so far laying that foundation for pack leadership?
If you still have a full head of hair, you’re probably doing well 😉 One of the primary tactics I have used for many years to keep myself calm, or to redirect myself when my dander is up, is to take every opportunity to have fun with my pups. You all know what I am talking about. That boiling point where you just want to scream and let your dog loose. Don’t give up! Take a break and redirect your energy to play with him for a minute or two. Tug is always a great game to get those nerves jumping for joy, instead of surging to ring his neck! Tug is a great bonding game as well. That, along with some other cues and subtle moves you can learn, will help you train your dog and become closer. So, whether you were out to learn a second language or not, let’s get our dog speak on and calm our inner beast!
Let Their Body Talk
One of my “pet peeves” (pun intended) is how so many people like to dress their dogs. I won’t go on with more adjectives there, as to not offend anyone 😉 The more important aspect of this is the fact that we all know dogs use body language to “speak” or communicate the majority of what they have to say. Everything from standing those hairs on her little shoulders (hackles) to staring at you when she wants food you have or to get onto the couch. If you watch your pup closely you can see various ways in which she communicates with you. If her shoulders, for example, are covered by some silly shirt, how will you know when she feels threatened? If she raises her hackles underneath the shirt, how will you see?
In that light, how will you be someone she can depend upon if you are not able to read or “hear” what she is telling you?
Dogs are not toys and it is essential to let them be able to “talk” freely with you and others around, both two and four-legged. Okay…enough of my ranting!
Almost all the ways a dog communicates is with her entire body, not just the look on her face. When Mia was a pup I taught her a game…. Well, okay. I just imitated dog speak and turned it into play time! I call it “sneaky puppy.” I drop my head low, sort of crouching down a little and look directly at her, whispering, “Are you a sneaky puppy, sneakin’ on me?” She would drop her head a little with her tail straight out behind her and stare back, accepting the challenge. We would tip-toe slowly toward each other, all the while I repeat the “sneaky puppy” whisper. Sometimes we just stand, poised to “attack”, staring. Letting the tension build. It was a toss as to who would break first! Then we would go at it, play fighting or I would just holler about what a great pup she is and scratch her belly 🙂
The point of that is, just my body language (mimicking an attack mode) “told” Mia what my intent was. So much can be accomplished in training your pup by simply observing and often imitating his behavior. On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals shares specific behavioral cues that can be easily communicated to your dog. I must say, some of the stuff even I thought was a bit out there at first. But Turid Rugaas does a fine job in challenging dog owners to observe closely and at least give her suggestions a try.
Click on the image to get this great, simple book!
One example that I thought was, frankly, ridiculous is squinting, or what Rugaas calls “shortening” or “softening of the eyes.” To make himself appear less threatening while making eye contact, a dog will soften their eyes by (what I call) squinting or blinking. Dogs often use this to tell another, “I’m okay. I won’t bite!” Often dogs will use this also when simply relaxing and you happen to make eye contact. It’s almost like she gives you a wink to say, “All is well here.” As much as I thought this author was taking things a bit too far, I tried it out.
Occasionally when I caught Hanani looking directly at me, I’d squint, blink or wink at her. Not big and showy. Just a few simple blinks while maintaining eye contact. The first few times I think it startled her! Sort of like when a room full of Puerto Ricans chatting up in Spanish and all the sudden you add to the conversation–in clear Spanish! Their surprise is hysterical! But Hanani just jumped right in and winked, blinked back!
After a few days of taking these opportunities, I noticed she paid better attention to me and has been much calmer. I know! It sounds crazy but is so true! I also found this to often invite affections, like saying, “I love you!” It amazed me that something so seemingly little could do so much.
Originally I bought this book because it contained a great point that I have used for many years. The calming effect (my dogs and me) of turning away is so simple and it WORKS! Dogs turn away or turn their head when they are uncomfortable with a situation. You know what I am talking about. All those great photos you could have gotten if she just did not turn her head at the last minute! Well, vengeance time folks! We can use this against our pups as well to train out those annoying behaviors that enrage your inner beast!
Everyone at some point in time has had an issue with their dog jumping on people. I believe there are few things more embarrassing than your dog knocking over a guest or leaving paw prints on your mother’s dress! Rather than let embarrassment turn to rage, I simply tell my guests to look away or turn their back. Sure, Mia still jumps on my son, but that is because he invites it–whether he sees it or not, Mia does! Sometimes even adding a yawn (another cue in this book) will really get the point across to “chill out.”
Turning away or turning around is also a good training tactic. Whenever my husband goes to let Hanani out of her room she jumps on the gate over and over, so excited it drives him nuts! When I go to let her out, I stand at the gate and turn my head to face away from her. After a few jumps more she settles and sits to wait for me to open her gate. As soon as she sits, I tell her “Good girl” (calmly) and “Wait”. Now, her rear does not come off that floor until I give the “Okay!”
Applications Extend Far
The applications of implementing dog speak into your daily routine and training extend farther than you can imagine. For instance, is your dog one to bolt out any door as soon as it opens? Well, developing a relationship with your prancey pooch where he is learning your speak while you are learning his makes for a mutually satisfying–and safer–homelife. Not only will you be able to calm your critter (and keep yourself calm) easily, but the training will go smoother when you create a deeper bond through clear communication.
In the example above, I “spoke” to Hanani that it was unacceptable to jump at me on her gate. She learned quickly that, to get what she wants (out) she needed to calm down, sit and wait for me to open her gate. No yelling. No frustrating attempts to force her off the gate. All simply satisfying, clear communications that achieved both our goals–Hanani was let out, I got her to behave. Now it’s to the point where she just comes to the gate and sits when I go to let her out.
So implementing dog speak calming cues is a great tactic to help your pack become tight-nit as you lay a solid foundation of pack leadership. Enjoy! And share your experiences below 🙂