A number of years ago I booked myself onto a dog first aid course, after the morning learning critical first aid skills there was an additional intro to dog body language. I hadn't really considered this anything more than a pleasant little add on. Little did I know that it would be the turning point for my understanding of dogs and I think infinitely important for everyone who spends time in the company of canines to learn.
Up until attending this course I thought I knew dogs pretty well. I'd had a dog all my life, I'd volunteered with dogs at a rescue centre and I had been working with dogs as a dog walker for almost two years.
Well, what an eye opener this little intro to dog body language was. No, a wagging tail doesn't always mean a happy dog. A yawning dog doesn't always mean a tired dog. And a dog licking it's lips doesn't always mean they've just had a tasty little snack.
Dog body language is very subtle in a lot of cases. To the untrained eye you can miss a hell of a lot of dogs communications or misinterpret them. Having a greater understanding of these small movements and gestures means that I can support the dogs I take care of with their interactions both environmental and with each other.
For example, I now know that a dog walking towards another dog head on can be intimidating for the other dog and that walking in an arch is much more polite! So whilst we are out on our walks if we happen to meet any other dogs we will try and avoid that head on meet and greet for a more positive introduction and to give the opportunity of total avoidance if any of the dogs prefer.
I can see signs of concern, discontentment or stress in the dogs I spend time with and I can adapt to support that. If one dog is over excited in their play for example and another dog or dogs is showing signs they are not very happy with this then I will wait a few seconds to see if the instigating dog will listen to them. If the dog doesn't listen to the other dogs then I am there, tuned in and ready to positively interrupt and redirect them. I am there to make sure ALL of the dogs I take care of are happy not just exercised and toileted. Being aware in this way actually makes my job a hell of a lot easier as things don't escalate before I realise there is an issue. I can usually spot it and head it off meaning we all have a happy walk!
The world we live in presents a number of things which can unsettle a dog. Just like us they have different personalities and different things they enjoy, will tolerate and things which will send them over the edge. Learning about trigger stacking on this course not only helped me understand dogs better but I can now spot in myself when I am reacting not to a specific event but because I'm trigger stacked!
By having a good understanding of dog body language it empowers you to be that advocate for your dog. You can begin to recognise what their loves, worries and overwhelms are and you can adapt or train if appropriate to help them live their best life. And what more do we want for our pooches?!
I went on to attend a full day dog body language course and it truly ignited a new understanding and a deep desire to learn more within me.
Both courses I attended were delivered by a fantastic local behaviourist and trainer, Eryn at Believe in Magic. She now offers an online introduction to dog body language which you can enrol for here if you'd like to learn more too!