Reading Canine Body Language: Part 2
In Part 1 we examined what you are actually looking at when you see your dog, or another dog, assuming a certain stance. Now let’s look at how and when to limit the behavior that triggers a response that you don’t want to deal with.
Everyone who has owned a dog knows that dogs want to see and meet other dogs. However, how do we do this without the lunging and pulling that goes along with that type of meeting? First, your dog needs to be in a calm state before the nose-to-nose type of meeting, otherwise it could trigger a fight. Secondly, YOU control the meeting and the time spent (rules/boundaries/limitations). Just today, our Beach Pack met Dexter, a Great Dane/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix and huge guy who is only 2 years old. Obviously, everyone wanted to see everyone else, but it had to be on the Pack Leaders’ terms. They all calmly approached nose-to-nose and butt to butt with no explosions of energy (usually a sign that someone is unbalanced even if it is only to play) and after the initial greetings stood calmly while we all talked about Dexter. Two Beach Patrol Volunteers walked past and asked if they all knew each other and, of course, the answer is, “Now they do!” But I also added that this is what happens when a balanced pack meets a new dog who is also balanced; there is no pulling, no barking, no running around, no lunging. If there is, pack leaders need to walk their dog away from that because it can get out of hand very quickly. Most important was the fact that the pack is calm BEFORE the actual meeting – catch unwanted behavior before it gets uncontrollable.
Another element that the vast majority of dog owners do not understand is the myth that dogs should never meet face to face because that is a challenge to the other dog. In fact, wolves will smell the teeth of another wolf or of a human when first meeting (once they decide to get that close to you). If the dog (yours or the other) is exhibiting dominant behavior and posture, then the likelihood of it going bad is pretty high. The goal is calm/interested or curious behavior (not even submission, which could be viewed as weakness and able to be dominated). Remember that dogs are smell oriented first, so they smell faces first (“What’d you have for breakfast?”) and then move to the rear ends (“What’s you have for dinner last night?”) and it is all completely normal AND ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY THAT THE OWNER ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN. Why? Because if you jerk your dog away or give a correction for normal dog behavior, the message sent is that you are trying to protect your dog from the other dog, and if there is truly nothing wrong (and usually there isn’t) the dog feels a need to defend itself and they are a lot closer to the “threat” than you are. So a fight breaks out… caused by you!
If you are unsure about meeting another dog your dog will be unsure (remember mirrored behavior!). Take them to dog parks, watch how they all interact, and enjoy the outside as your dog enjoys it! And stop being ultra-protective about every little move they make (do YOU like being micromanaged??). The more your dog realizes that you understand them, the calmer they will be, but only if YOU are a Calm/Assertive and Knowledgeable Pack Leader! Until next time, raise your Canine Literacy Rate and keep reading – canine body language!