Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tips to Use When Working with Anxious Dogs

Dogs live in strong social structures and avoid conflict by using body posture and signals. Turid Rugaas, an internationally renowned dog trainer and writer, studied wolf packs and observed the calming signals they use with each other. She wrote an excellent book on dog communication, titled, “On Talking Terms With Dogs.” During any work or interaction with anxious or stressed dogs (such as those in animal shelters), it would be good to incorporate a few of these communication skills:

  • Turn your head slightly away from your dog. In dog body language, staring or worse, hard staring, is a threat. 
  • Yawn with head turned slightly away. This is a way to communicate you are attempting to calm the situation.
  • Lick the side of your lip with head slightly turned. Lip licking can also be interpreted as non-threatening.

All these may sound silly until you realize your dog may do the same thing back to you. Even if she doesn’t, you’re still communicating things are ok, safe, no need to be concerned. Never coddle, try to sooth, or become worried, anxious, or upset yourself. If you are worried, anxious and upset, the dog will read your body language and become more anxious. Coddling or trying to sooth the anxious dog may cause the dog’s adrenaline to increase and work against calming. Next time you observe a group of dogs together – especially if they’re meeting each other for the first time – observe their body language and learn!

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