Dogs are incredibly social creatures and use non-verbal communication in the majority of their daily activity. Their complex body language is sometimes difficult for us to begin to understand. Dog behaviour courses can help you gain understanding into their psychological needs, but for now let's look at some of the most common faux pas situations in which canines could be getting a very different - and unpleasant - experience to their human.
1. Unwanted attention
You're walking along a road, and pretty much every small child in your path runs up to you to pat your head, ruffle your hair or tug on your arm. Even some adults virtually bounce up to you to force interaction. Now imagine being about two feet tall and most people being giants in comparison. It's important to dignify dogs with personal space and respect, especially when a gaggle of excitable children or well-meaning family members rush to say 'hello'.
The solution: It's vital people are gently informed on how to greet a dog. Permission to approach should always be requested, and always let the dog make the first move if you feel he's comfortable doing so. Remember: if the dog looks stressed or distracted, it's never rude to say 'I'd rather not'. On the other hand, encouraging others to offer treats reinforces positive associations with strangers.
2. Back off!
Humans are creatures of tactile habits, and we can't help it - we show affection by proximity. A hug conveys warmth, friendship, love. To a dog, it says dominance or invasion. Just as we need to consciously greet dogs with respect, we need to watch how we convey affection too. Although it can be hard, consciously try to avoid hugging a dog - no matter how well you know them - and remember close facial proximity with a dog not only can be seen as threatening to them, but is also potentially dangerous!
The solution: Teach children not to embrace the dog, and instead show them how a gentle scratch under the chin can be a friendly way of communicating affection.
3. What are you lookin' at?
In many cultures, staring is deemed rude. To a dog, prolonged eye contact can be at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, interpreted as challenging or aggressive.
The solution: If a dog seems nervous, avoid direct eye contact. A relaxed dog, however, will happily maintain brief eye contact, followed by looking away.
4. Warm welcome
When calling a friendly but nervous dog, it's commonplace to stand facing them, yelling their name. Your tone may be friendly, but the dog isn't moving. How do you encourage positive recall?
The solution: Try crouching down with your arms open. This signifies a warm greeting. Remember that dogs can pick up on stress levels by your voice, so always try to remain positive.
5. Keep your distance
In our overprotective efforts, sometimes dogs completely skip socialisation and risk developing fear or aggressive tendencies. It's important your canine can comfortably meet and socialise with people and other dogs, and make it a positive experience for them.
The solution: Try and arrange walks with fellow dog owners, or if the pooch is friendly, visit parks at peak times (lunch and after office hours) to build up confidence. Dog to dog contact is healthy behaviour - dogs need social lives, too!
If you want to get a deeper understanding of why dogs behave the way they do, why not consider dog training courses to sharpen up your skills? Choose from a variety of practical courses (like canine first aid) right up to in-depth canine behaviour for further insight, from distance learning to intense weekend 2-year programmes to fit around your lifestyle.