Dogs are always watching our Body Language for good reason.
One area of interaction with dogs that again does not seem to get enough attention, but yet is crucial, is that of body language.
It’s those non verbal cues we send out (and internalise) that make up body language.
It is said that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal ! (that’s right, depending on which study you want to look at, as little as 7% of communication is what we actually say ! )
Interestingly the breakdown is 55% body language and 38% tone of voice. My clients will tell you we spend a LOT of time on voice tone. (BTW, it’s the way dogs communicate, so that’s why we focus on it so much 😉 )
Thus, it’s not surprising that one of the tenants of communication is that we cannot help but communicate. We are sending signals if we like it or not. This very much comes into dog training, but yet again, not all trainers pay attention to it.
When you are looking to transform a dog into a well rounded, better behaved dog, the topic of body language should absolutely be addressed.
Most people have a basic understanding of Dog related body language. If the hair is up, snarling and teeth showing that’s usually an aggressive sign. Bowing with front paws down, and rear end up with tail wagging is an invite to play.
As mentioned elsewhere in previous posts, dogs are looking for the body language of other creatures and often making their judgements based on that feedback. Often when you get aggressive or reactive dogs there is something in the body language of the other creature that the dog does not like. (even just being a bit assertive or fearful can set a dog off)
Something that can be missed is our own body language and the signals we are sending to the dog. Sometimes when a dog will not hold or stay in a sit, people might try speaking louder or repeating the command multiple times. However often it’s their body language that may be sabotaging their efforts. If your body language does not match what you’re asking the dog may not respond the way you wish.
In a lot of cases a bit more an assertive stance will work wonders. The standing tall, shoulders back, chest out and if you really want to get it flowing, hands on hips. This is a pretty assertive stance.
The other aspect to consider and what I go through with my clients is that dogs will also take cues from major changes in body language. Going from a standing to a sitting position is a major change in body language. In this instance an assertive position to a more relaxed position. You have to let the dog know that a change in YOUR body language should not change THEIR requirement to undertake a command or to listen to you. Dogs are continually assessing and reassessing our body language, but they should still be listening. We can help by maintaining a certain level of assertive language.
Related to this is also walking your dog, standing straight and head up will send a lot more of a leadership signal as opposed to hunched back and dragging feet which often encourages dogs to pull and misbehave.
Its both humans and dogs.
Bringing another aspect into play, let’s talk about us, rather than the dog. It should be understood that body language also has an internal, as in you the human, influence.
If you walk in an assertive manner for a length of time, this will help your brain to be more assertive and feel that way, the opposite is true as well. If you walk in a dejected worrisome way you tend to feel that way as well. So remember, proper body language helps the dog and us at the same time, and again highlights why it’s so important.
The rough areas you should be checking are, eyes and eye contact. We all know this one, eye contact has a big influence in both dog and human communication.
Your facial expression will give cue’s as to what you are thinking and feeling. Posture is usually a pretty good tell tale sign of confidence. Hand gestures can be used extensively to let the dog or others know what we want or to help guide. Our own movement, especially speed again sends important signals. Our touch is also very big. Are you pulling sharply on the lead or letting it hang loose ?
Then of course is the all important voice tone, which is foundational to human/dog communication and requires its own post or more likely book to properly discuss.
There you have it. Body language plays a major part in the communication process. To really communicate and help your dog understand what you are asking, your body language is crucial, and should be an essential part of any dog training program.