I’m currently reading Dr. SophiaYin’s How to behave so your dog behaves. I plan on doing a full book review, with synopsis, when I’m finished, but one particular exercise early on in the book sticks out to me as extremely valuable to seasoned and new dog owners alike.
In a chapter where Dr. Yin is discussing dog body language in canine-canine and human-canine interactions, she talks about how little we, as owners, actually know what our dogs are trying to tell us. She cites a study in which owners were asked to get their dogs to play with them. In this study, the owners performed a myriad of different gestures to try and elicit the play. Knee smacking, kissing noises, play bowing, and many others were seen. What was interesting about the results of the study is that only a few gestures actually worked in getting the dogs to play, but the owners gave the dogs signals that didn’t work just as much as ones that did!
These results won’t surprise anyone with an unwavering morning routine because they know, unless we actively engage our analytical mind in the process, it is very difficult for humans to learn about a particular subject by passive observation.
How does this work?
I’m of the opinion that the quicker we can accomplish something, the easier it is to motivate one’s self to do it! With that in mind, I took the liberty of picking out 2 parts of this chapter and combining them into one exercise that will only take a few minutes a day. Our goal here is to observe our dogs for exactly one minute while they are engaged in various activities(I’ll provide a template list) and concentrate on the position of one body part. For example, when our dog wants to engage us in play, what position are her ears in? How do they change over that one minute period, Dr. Yin suggests taking a note of the position of the body part in question every 5-10 seconds during the observation minute to get the most useful results.
By participating in this exercise, we are going to hone our dog communication skills. We are going to be able to understand our dog’s state of mind just by looking at how they position their bodies. After refining this ability, we are going to be able to better understand how to tackle unwanted or problematic behavior, not only from a training standpoint but from the dog’s perspective. What is causing fear, aggression, reactivity, etc will reveal itself to us with crystal clear clarity once we are able to ascertain what our dog is feeling in any given situation!
I think the best way for us to get the most out of this exercise is to observe only one body part at a time in each of the various activities listed below. This will allow us to define and talk about the different positions and what they mean in canine-ese, without confusing ourselves with too much information about too many body parts at once. Breaking down this exercise into baby steps will help us, as a group, to understand the information that our dogs are sending us with greater accuracy.
Dr. Yin lists the different positions that a dog’s ears can take during these activities first, so that is also where we will start. The positions are:
- F-Forward all the way and pricked-up
- S-Side and pricked-up
- BB-Back and slightly down
- BF-Back and flattened against the head
*Use the abbreviations above to note position when observing
For our first foray into observing our dog’s body language, we will share our results when 5-8 activities have been observed(I will be doing this with Sully as well). When we report back in the comments, we will be able to discuss what our results are telling us about our dog’s state of mind.
Pick 5-8 activities from the list below and observe the position of your dog’s ears for a full minute. Record their position every 5-10 seconds with one of the positions listed above(F, S, BB, BF) Leave your results as a comment and we will discuss the meaning of each position as it pertains to the activity being observed.
- Eating meal(no other animals near)-
- Chewing a bone or other long-lasting toy or treat-
- Standing around the house or yard, not interacting with anything or anybody-
- Waiting to be fed a meal-
- Waiting to be fed a treat(begging)-
- Soliciting petting from owner-
- Sniffing in the yard for a place to urinate or defecate –
- On walks when energy is high-
- On walks when tired(at end)-
- When greeting owner-
- When greeting unfamiliar people-
- When greeting friends-
- When the doorbell rings-
- When locked outside and wants to come in –
- Greets familiar dog playmates-
- Greets unfamiliar dogs off leash-
- Greets unfamiliar dogs on leash-
I’m going to make a point to take video of all, or most, of my observation sessions. I think this will help in understanding what Dr. Yin is talking about with the different positions a body part can take. I encourage anyone who decides to participate in this exercise to do the same. If you would like to share it in our discussions, great! If not, it is still a good idea since you will be able to re-watch the session for anything that you may have missed initially.
Looking forward to learning with you!