Category Archives: body language of dogs

Why You Should Involve Kids in Dog Training

By Linda Cole

Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, involving the entire family in the dog’s training is an important part in the dog’s education as well as the child’s. Kids like to be included in family things, and training a dog should be a family affair. Having a role in a dog’s care and training also helps children learn about being compassionate and how to act around a dog.

Socializing a dog or puppy isn’t difficult to do. What’s hard is teaching children not to roughhouse with a dog to the point where the dog or puppy becomes agitated or overly excited. That’s why kids and adults need to understand a dog’s body language to know when the dog has had enough fun for the time being. Involving children in a dog’s training helps them learn how to watch what a dog is saying. It helps them become more aware of the dog’s movements, and it’s one of the best ways to bond and learn who their dog is as an individual.

Understanding breeds compassion, and when children train a dog using positive reinforcement, they are learning a life lesson that teaches them positive techniques which help with their human relationships. They learn they don’t have to intimidate or use fear or bullying to get things they want, and they learn that giving respect to a dog returns trust to them.

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The Right Way to Greet a Dog

By Linda Cole

Dogs are naturally curious when someone new comes to visit. Some dogs will react positively to a stranger with a friendly approach, but may feel threatened as soon as the person reaches down to try and pet them. There are rules to keep in mind when greeting a dog, and knowing what they are can be the difference between a friendly encounter or one that becomes tense. Meeting new people can be exciting for some dogs, while others take longer to warm up to someone. Understanding the “Body Language of Dogs” can make a meeting smoother and safer when you know how to interpret what a dog is saying. You can then take that information and use it in your favor.

A dog can appear friendly, until you get too close; then he may feel intimidated. He may back off, cower or give you a low warning growl. It’s just like when a person stands too close while talking to you and it gives you an uncomfortable feeling. The person may not realize their close proximity creates tension if they don’t notice your body language. When greeting a dog, regardless of whether he knows you or not, ignore him when you first walk into someone’s home. No eye contact, don’t talk to him and don’t try to pet him. From the dog’s point of view it’s not being rude, it’s being polite. He’s more likely to stay calm when you don’t acknowledge him until the human greetings are done.

If the dog jumps up on you, turn your side or back to him each time he jumps up. If he continues, walk away from him without looking at or speaking to him. Avoid pushing him down with your hands because dogs use their front paws in play and when you push him away using your hands, he thinks you’re trying to play with him. Fold your arms or put your hands in your pocket if the dog tries to get your attention by nudging your hand. Pet a dog only when he’s calm and has all four feet on the ground.

Sudden moves can startle a dog. If you try to suddenly pet a dog from above with your hand moving down towards his head or if you move too quickly towards him, a timid dog can feel threatened and may snap or growl. Watch the dog’s body language which will tell you if you need to back off and leave him alone. A shy dog is more likely to approach you if you aren’t paying him attention. A handful of CANIDAE TidNips™ treats can help make friends after the initial greetings; just be sure to ask his owner first.

Sit down on the couch or in a chair, or kneel down on the floor making sure to avoid eye contact with the dog. Hold some treats in your hand and offer them to the dog. If he won’t take the treat from your hand, put it on the floor. Give him space while he gets to know you. His body language will tell you when he’s ready for you to pet him. A dog can become excited just because someone came to visit, even when they know who the visitor is. When you consistently greet a dog the right way, it teaches him to be polite and helps to keep him calm.

Anytime you greet a dog, ask for permission before petting him. The owner knows their dog best and some dogs would rather you left them alone. If a dog looks tense or scared, he probably is. Don’t try to pet a dog who is giving you an intense stare, especially if he’s standing stiff and motionless, looking at you out of the corner of his eye or licking his lips. This is a sign he’s agitated. Give him space and allow him to greet you on his terms when he’s ready.

When greeting a dog, what you want to see in his body language is his tail wagging or hanging down in a relaxed manner. This is a friendly dog. Never force yourself on a dog. Not all dogs like being hugged, especially from someone they don’t know. Not all dogs like being petted on the head either. It’s best to pet him with your hand coming up to meet his head rather than coming down. Understanding how to greet a dog can make life easier for you and the dog.

Photo by Ben Radlinski

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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.

Tips for Preventing Dog Bites

By Julia Williams

Since this is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we thought this would be a good time to discuss why dogs bite and offer some tips to avoid getting bitten. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, and one in five dog bite injuries require medical attention.

One very important part of responsible pet ownership is doing everything you can to make sure that you, your family, visitors to your home and strangers on the street are all safe in the presence of your dog. Although there is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone, there are things you can do to lessen the probability. First and foremost, it’s vital to arm yourself with knowledge about dog behavior.

Learn to “Speak Dog”

A good place to start is the educational website Doggone Safe, which has a wealth of information about dog bite prevention, including recognizing signs of anxiety, arousal, aggression, signs that a bite is imminent, and signs that a dog is happy. The site also has photos and a slideshow of different canine body language signals, which can be a very useful teaching tool for parents. Since dogs can’t verbalize how they feel, they use their body language to tell us whether they want attention or to be left alone. Learning to recognize signs of aggression will help prevent dog bites.

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Teaching Kids How to Approach an Unfamiliar Dog

By Linda Cole

When I was a kid, old enough to know better, I saw a dog chained to a parking meter. The owner was nowhere in sight. Kids raised with dogs have a tendency to view all dogs like their pet at home. That’s exactly what I did. As I approached the dog, it lunged at me and I had to jump back to avoid getting bit. It was a good lesson to learn. Kids can learn how to look at a dog and understand what the dog is telling them before they approach it. A child is more at risk for dog encounters because of their small size. A more aggressive dog isn’t as intimidated by a child as they are with adults.

It’s just as important to teach your children what to do when meeting an unfamiliar or stray dog as it is to teach them what to do if a stranger approaches them. Dogs are everywhere and sooner or later, kids will find themselves face to face with an unfamiliar or stray dog. The dog could be a family or friend’s pet, a dog in the back of a truck or a stray dog who’s trying to find his way back home.

Teaching kids how to read a dog’s body language is their best defense. Most dogs mean us no harm and they are experts at reading our body language. If a child shows fear or aggression towards the dog, it can lead to an unwanted and unnecessary confrontation, even if the dog and kid know each other.

Avoid direct eye contact with an unfamiliar or stray dog. Teaching kids how to look at a dog is as important as understanding the dog’s body language. To a dog, direct eye contact is perceived as a challenge. It’s alright to keep an eye on it, but don’t stare. If a stray dog starts to walk towards you, walk away from the dog, but do keep an eye on him to see what he’s doing. Even a friendly dog can bite if we give wrong signals.

Never run away from a dog, because running will activate his prey drive. A friendly stray may give chase because he wants to play, but it can be frightening to a child or adult when a dog is chasing them. Don’t kick at them or try to push them away with your hands. Teach kids to stand completely still with their arms held straight down next to their body if a stray dog approaches them outside. Stay calm and try not to tighten up because the dog can tell if we’re frightened. Most dogs will give a few sniffs and then be on their way if they’re completely ignored.

If knocked down by a stray dog, curl up in a ball with your hands over your head and remain still and quiet. Excitement from us will create excitement in the dog. The best way to keep a situation under control is by staying in control and remaining calm.

Enter a home with a dog as if there is no dog. Even if there’s a comfortable and safe relationship between kid and dog, the dog should be ignored until the greetings are over and everyone has calmed down. Dogs get excited when company arrives and the best time to give them attention is when everyone’s in a relaxed state of mind. Encounters with dogs happen because we don’t always understand them. They have days when they aren’t feeling up to par, just like we do.

When meeting someone’s dog who is unfamiliar to them, kids should be taught to always ask before approaching the dog. It’s only natural for kids to want to pet and play with a dog. However, even laid back, friendly dogs don’t always like having a child pull on their ears. Injuries can be avoided with one simple rule. Never try to pet a dog you don’t know. Dogs react the only way they can and will use a growl and bite, if necessary, as a warning to us to leave them alone.

Teaching kids how to approach an unfamiliar or stray dog, even if it looks friendly and is wagging its tail, can help protect them from negative dog encounters. As long as they aren’t threatened by us, most dogs will leave us alone. A stray dog doesn’t know we want to help them and we don’t know what they may have been through while living on the streets. A stray dog can be defensive, fearful or friendly depending on how it’s been treated by people it has met along the way. Teaching kids how to look at a dog and understand the dog’s body language is your child’s best defense when meeting an unfamiliar or stray dog.

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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.

Debunking Common Dog Myths


By Linda Cole

The dictionary defines a myth as a belief or set of beliefs that are false or unproven. Facts and myths have a way of getting tangled up with each other and it’s hard to pull them apart. Dog myths can actually be harmful to the dogs if people believe them. In this article, I will set the record straight for six common dog myths.

If a dog is wagging his tail, he must be friendly. This common dog myth may garner a bite for those who believe it. Dogs wag their tails for different reasons. You can tell by a dog’s body language if he’s friendly. His tail is relaxed and straight out as he wags it, and he looks happy. A more aggressive or dominant dog will hold his tail up over his back and may be wagging only the very end of his tail. A playful dog will also hold his tail up over his back, but it’s swishing from side to side. A dog that’s submissive, afraid or anxious will have a tail that hangs down with a wag that seems uncertain, which is exactly how the dog is feeling. Never approach or pet a dog you aren’t familiar with until the dog has been given a chance to properly check you out.

When a dog does something wrong, they know they’re in trouble. They do know they’re in trouble, but not because of what they did. They haven’t a clue why we’re standing there yelling, waving our arms and getting red in the face. We may not be experts at reading a dog’s body language, but they are experts in reading ours. Plus, dogs can read our emotions on our face by what’s called a left gaze bias. In short, dogs read our moods just by looking at us. When a dog hangs his head and gives us those puppy dog eyes that say, “I’m sorry,” it has nothing to do with the torn up chair or scattered trash on the kitchen floor.

You should never play tug of war games with your pet. This common dog myth will only deprive you and your dog from having fun. Tug of war is one of the more natural games for dogs to play. In the wild, wolves and wild dogs fight over their prey, and the one who wins the tug of war wins the food. A game of tug of war is a great way to teach your dog you’re the one in charge. You won, and that makes you leader of the pack in his eyes.

That dog just tried to bite me. This common dog myth gets canines in trouble all the time. If the dog had wanted to bite the hand next to his head, he would have. A dog’s reflex is much faster than ours. He only sent a warning shot across the bow that says to back off. Dogs snap to send a warning that “the next one will be the real McCoy and I won’t miss.” A snapping dog isn’t trying to bite, he’s just asking you to leave him alone because something is bothering him.

You should never allow your dog to growl. Dogs communicate in different ways with each other and us. Growls are one of the tools they use to signal to us, other dogs and even cats to leave them alone. A growl is a request to back off because something is bothering your dog and he’s uncomfortable. Give him space just like you’d want if there was something gnawing at you. There’s also nothing wrong with a playful growl during a game of catch or tug of war. It’s never wise to take a dog’s voice away because that’s his way of letting you know how he feels.

I can tell if my dog has a temperature by his nose. This is a very common dog myth. A dog’s nose can be dry and warm in the morning, and wet and cold when he gives you a sloppy kiss on the cheek an hour later. It’s normal for his nose to be one way or the other at different times of the day. The only way you can tell if your dog has a temperature is by taking it with a thermometer and yes, you have to do it using a digital rectal thermometer. Never take your dog’s temperature using a thermometer with mercury in it because sometimes it can be sucked inside the dog and break. Mercury can make the dog very sick. The normal average temperature for a dog is 101.5 degrees.

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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.

Why Do Dogs Have Hackles?


By Ruthie Bently

All dogs have hackles and they run from the dog’s neck, down their backbone and to the base of their tail, sometimes even the shoulders. One of my dogs actually had hackles that started at the base of their skull and went all the way down their back and partway down their tail. The first time Smokey saw horses, he sniffed the air in their direction and his hackles rose to their full extent on his back. He didn’t bark or growl at the horses as he approached them and he didn’t race up to them, so why did his hackles rise? Put it down to a simple case of curiosity. Smokey saw these huge creatures who smelled funny to him, and he was trying to assess the situation before taking action. Since I wasn’t worried, neither was he.

When a dog’s hackles rise it is called piloerection. It is similar to the hair going up on your arm, your head or the back of your neck and is an involuntary reaction to a situation. It is theorized that piloerection happens when there is a rush of adrenaline through a dog’s system. Hackles may rise on a dog’s entire body or just in one area, depending on the situation. This should not be confused with a Rhodesian Ridgeback’s ridge. This is a particular feature indicative of the breed and even some Ridgeback crosses.

Piloerection can be caused by excitement, stimulation, arousal, being startled, fear or interest. It is rare that hackles are raised in an aggressive manner, though it does happen. A hunting dog’s hackles may rise when they are pointing a bird or catch a whiff of a pheasant in the brush; they are stimulated and react accordingly. An intact male dog scenting a female in heat in the neighborhood may raise his hackles in his arousal. A dog’s hackles can rise involuntarily due to a loud clap of thunder that startles them. Even the excitement of greeting a family member or canine friend can cause the hackles on a dog’s back to rise.

Small dog or dogs that are fearful may raise their hackles when they meet another dog and it is thought they do this to try and make themselves look taller to the approaching dog. It reminds me of what my cats did when I brought my first puppy home. They puffed themselves up and looked so huge the puppy backed up in terror. While it was funny to watch, I had my hands full trying to calm the poor puppy and soothe the cats. A dog smelling an unfamiliar wild animal in their territory at night may raise their hackles and growl a warning to “stay away.” A puppy raising its hackles may do so because it is unsure how to react to a situation or change in its surroundings.

The best thing for a responsible pet owner to do is to be aware of your own dog’s body language and be in charge of any situation you and your dog are in. The next time you go walking with your dog or to the dog park, watch your dog and how they react to other dogs they meet. Watch both the dogs and their communication with each other. Watch not only their hackles, but their tail, eyes, ears, body posture and facial expressions. For more helpful tips on this topic, read Linda Cole’s Body Language of Dogs. By understanding your own dog and their body language, you are a step ahead of the game.

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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.