What makes a dog man’s best friend is how well they seem to understand us. But do we always understand them? Dogs communicate with us all the time but without words or conversation. Instead they use body language, facial expressions and some vocalisations to let us know what they feel and think. Being able to pick up on these signals will ultimately improve your relationship. The first step in improving dog to people communication is to make sure your puppy receives appropriate and adequate socialisation in the proper manner and at the proper time.
Dogs are social animals that often live in groups and evolved a nuanced but effective method of non-verbal communication with each other to create a harmonious group. To make living together more effective, dogs remember and learn about each group member and work to avoid conflicts by being predictable and following the canine social rules.
While living as family pets, dogs still expect clear signals from the humans that make up their social group. While people strive for predictability in verbal cues and actions, for dogs predictability relies on routine and consistent responses in social interactions. Predictability makes things clearer, and change and inconsistency on a regular basis can create anxiety. While some have described unwanted responses in dogs as “behaving as a leader” or being a “dominant dog”, a dog is usually just confused about what you want or the outcome of the social interaction. Often, anxiety and insecurity can lead to growling, baring its teeth or snapping if the dog becomes very frightened, threatened or punished.
Dogs also need their owners to establish clear rules of communication and then to be consistent in rewarding desirable behaviours: a specific behaviour displayed by the dog in one context should always be either rewarded, or conversely ignored and be consistent from time to time, and place to place. Otherwise, such ambiguity creates confusion and can lead to unwanted behaviours in dogs.
Dogs use sophisticated ways of communication with other dogs, using:
Social communication is a two way street. Dogs need to be able to understand the signals from humans and be able to predict them, and in return expect their social signals to be understood as well. But without words, some canine social signals are very subtle.
These are all signs that the dog is uncomfortable with what is happening. Rather than going forward and trying to make the dog comply, it is usually better to take a step or two away and give the dog time to relax and then ask again or change the way you ask so that it is clearer and non-threatening to the dog.
Another common canine body posture is one that is often called the “guilty” look. In this instance the dog may take the avoidance to the extreme-really averting their eyes, lowering their body and licking their lips. The dog is actually not guilty, but in dog language it says “I see you are angry-please don’t hurt me”. Our mistake is assuming they know WHY we are angry because we have told them so with our words, but since they don’t usually understand those, all they hear is our angry tone and all they see is our tense and angry body.
When your dog does not react as expected to your verbal cues, remember that instead of being disobedient they may not understand what you want them to do, or they are anxious and frightened so cannot concentrate or are distracted by something they deem more important. Additionally, some things that are very important to people, are unimportant to dogs and they need to be taught how they should respond.
Just like people, if a dog is misunderstood, or frustrated that their needs are not met, confused or anxious because of unclear human-dog communication they can become stressed.
Inappropriate restraint/handling especially without proper prior acclimation (grooming, hugging, petting)
Social interactions they are worried about without any opportunity to escape
Exposure to new situations and fearful environments with or without proper prior exposure and learning (new people, loud noises, thunderstorms, etc.)
Adoption/ settling into a new home
Separation (staying alone at home or in a kennel)
Yawning, increased motor activity/pacing, panting, muzzle licking, low body postures, urination, defecation/diarrhoea and expression of anal glands.
If you dog is showing any of these signs then Adaptil may help.
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