Today I’m talking about dog body language, some behavior, and some ways of maneuvering your dog, your neighbor’s dogs, and protecting your kids around exuberant dogs!
The first thing you should know is that there’s a hierarchy among dogs. The “top dogs” (or alpha dogs) get to make all the rules, but they also protect the pack. This is part of why Cash wants to stick close to Quin’s 8-year-old twins: children (or puppies) are always at the bottom of the ranks, and need to be protected! The top dogs, in addition to protecting the other dogs, also set all the rules.
Top dogs show their colors by getting into other dogs’ personal space. When the other dogs move away, they’re saying, “Yes! You’re in charge!”
Example: When Lily jumps toward Quin’s twins, she’s telling them, “I’m in charge! I make the rules! Give me that cookie!” If they back up (get out of her personal space), they are agreeing without ever meaning to.
What to do: If a dog is jumping on your child, you can tell your child to step forward and put their knee up. This forces the dog to move back, giving the child personal space, and the upright knee will keep the dogs from putting their paws on your child and pushing back. It usually has to be done several times before the dog tunes in!
Example: When the twins did this, Lily stopped jumping and sat down. When one of them did it to Cash, Cash settled down instantly and even laid down! In both cases, the dogs had to acknowledge that the humans were top dog and therefore get to make the rules, and the dogs started listening to the rules (which were “don’t jump for treats”).
You can also tell a dog “be nice to that OTHER person” by moving into the dog’s space when they get too close (or jump on) the other person.
Example: My neighbor’s dog is jumping on my friend.
What to do: I step into my friend’s personal space, and then step into the dog, pushing them away.
The top dog (me) gets to say, “be gentle with the newcomers! That is the rule!” and the other dogs will listen. Moving into their space is a non-offensive way to take control of a dog. (The knee up just keeps them from jumping on you when you do it! You can also do it without picking your knee up, but you have to get closer, often bumping the dog with your legs or hips, and it can be more intimidating to people.)
Dogs also sniff each other’s genitals to check in. Doing so tells the dogs if you’re diseased or have a parasite, if you’ve been eating well, what you’ve been eating (that is then safe for them to eat, too), if you’re strong or weak, and if you’re fertile. This is all very important information to a wild animal — and dogs are much more in tune with their undomesticated side than people! Now, if the top dog doesn’t want to be sniffed, they simply say so and the other dogs stop. They say so by turning and walking away, or just turning, or walking into the other dog’s personal space.
Example: A friend comes over, and Lily stuffs her nose in their crotch.
What to do: I can use my hissing noise: that noise tells my dogs that if they don’t stop, I’m going to invade their personal space (or squirt them with the squirt bottle). I’m insisting they give that other person more respect. If a dog is doing it to me, I can step into them or turn away.
If you don’t do anything about it, the dog will sniff you and then leave. It isn’t a precursor to biting.
When dogs want other dogs to come closer, they look at the dog and back away, inviting that dog into their space. When they want a dog to move away, they stand tall, look at the dog and move toward them, invading their space. (There’s a lot of other cues that will determine playing, sniffing, running, etc, but that gets complicated. Stick to a walk and you’re always saying, “Back away” or “come closer.”)
Example: Lily stuffs her nose in the crotch of a friend of mine, and my friend, very naturally for a human, backs away. My friend is actually telling Lily, “Come here, Lily!” So Lily does! (And keeps sniffing!)
For strange dogs:
If you turn your back and jog or run from a barking dog, they will often chase you. If you face them and back up, you’re inviting them to come closer. If you just stop and stand there, you’re saying, “I’m not interested in either chasing you away or you coming closer.” If, on top of that, you don’t LOOK at them (look at the treetops instead!) you’re saying, “I don’t want to be friends, I don’t want to fight, I’m not prey. I’m totally uninterested in you.” Looking and talking to dogs is actually aggressive in dog language. Friendly dogs learn that’s how WE communicate, and they accept it. But if you’re dealing with an unfriendly dog, just stop moving and look at the treetops. Worst case scenario is that they’ll run up to try and scare you, bark from 10 feet away, and then slowly either leave or come sniff you.
Now go manipulate some dogs, and feel powerful!