Using Body Language to Train Your Dog

By Linda Cole

Dogs know how we feel by our body language, tone of voice and expression on our face. They read us much better than most dog owners understand how to read them. It’s not difficult to understand what a dog is saying, and we can use their knowledge of body language to help us interact with them better. We can also use it when we are training a dog.

In the dog’s world, every movement, growl and gesture has a meaning. It can cause negative or positive reactions and be subtle or plain to see. They watch us like a hawk and interpret what we want by paying attention to us. The way we approach a dog, react to an aggressive dog, or interact with them while training can be better accomplished using their method of communication. When you send the appropriate message using body language, it can help you when meeting an unfamiliar dog and help you control your own dog.

Leaning forward into a submissive dog and moving your hand down towards the head will likely trigger a negative reaction that causes the dog to urinate. He reads your body language as dominant and is intimidated by you. But if you approach the same dog, crouch down next to him and bring your hand from his chest up to the head, you’ll get a much different reaction. When you crouch down next to a submissive dog, your body language is positive and nonthreatening. We naturally want to pet a dog on the head, but it’s better to stroke the chest of a dog showing submissive or dominant body language to avoid intimidating them.

One of the hardest commands to teach a dog is to come (recall). I’ve had dogs that refused to come, even for a treat. Instead of begging and yelling at your dog to come, turn your back and crouch down. You’ve shown him with your body language you’re not a threat and he’s not in trouble. He sees you as being calm and nonthreatening. You’ve given him an invitation to join you and most dogs will respond to your gesture. When he comes to you, give him a treat he loves, such as CANIDAE TidNips.

If crouching down doesn’t get your dog to come, try running away from him. Few dogs will ignore someone running from them. There might be playing involved if you’re running. When he comes, play with him for a minute. Then give him a treat and praise. Dogs that don’t come when called just haven’t been given a good enough reason why they should come. Make it worth their time and send the right signal.

Trying to get a dog to stop jumping up on you or someone else can be extremely frustrating for some dog owners. Use their knowledge of body language to teach them to stay down. Don’t push them down with your hands. Dogs use their paws in play, and pushing them away is saying you want to play. When your dog jumps up on you, turn away from him. If he comes around to try again, turn away and if he won’t stop, walk away. Dogs understand ignoring them says, “Leave me alone.”

Some dogs have a hard time walking beside their owner on a leash. Dogs are so anxious to get to the next interesting smell that they yank and pull on their leash, dragging their owner down the street. Leash train your dog by changing directions every time he starts to pull on his leash. You’re teaching him through body language that you are the one in control and you decide which direction and at what speed you want to walk.

Eye contact is very important to dogs. When training your dog, make eye contact with him to let him know you’re serious and in command. Watching a dog’s body language helps you understand what your dog is saying, and you can use language he understands to teach him how you want him to behave and help you keep him under control.

Body language is as important to a dog as our means of communication is for us. You can establish your role as your dog’s leader by doing what any alpha dog would do in his pack. Show your confidence and ability to lead in your body language. Stand tall, be fair, confident, calm and consistent in your dog’s training and when interacting with him. Dogs are watching us all the time, and they do understand what to look for in a leader.

Photo by Angela McCallum

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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One thought on “Using Body Language to Train Your Dog

  1. Those are some really good points. I must be doing things right, because I have never really had any trouble with my dogs with the exception of one dog and I just didn’t do her right and she was very sick as a puppy so she became spoiled. Anyway, that is a terrific post.

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