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Crazy about Dog Body Language, Part 1

Crazy about Dog Body Language, Part 1

by Beth Ostrowski-Parks, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Learning how to read dog body language will make you an even better trainer for your puppy or dog.

This is my favorite topic when I'm teaching new students. Even after 25 years of doing what I do, I STILL study it. It's fascinating to me and I feel it only helps people learn more about training their puppies and dogs.
I don't expect people to be as nerdy as I am about dog body language, but even if you just brush up on your skills in how to read your dog's body language, I feel certain you will become a better partner for your dog and you will also be keeping your dog safe and better protected from getting himself into trouble!

Dogs communicate through almost every part of their body.  Their communication is often so subtle most people don’t even realize that it’s happening.

Dogs communicate with their eyes, their mouth, their face, their ears, their body postures, their approach, their tails and their breathing, their motion or lack thereof, the list goes on.

If you want to become a really good trainer of your own dog or doges, you need to learn how to speak “dog”.   You need to learn about dog communication.  If you cannot read your dog’s communication, you cannot really tell if he or she is ready to receive training from you.  Also, you cannot know what emotional state your dog is in which is very important for learning capabilities.

Even though people can communicate with their voice, experts in the field say that even our communication is likely 55% or more non-verbal.

When people come to It’s PAWSible! for training, at the risk of feeling like I’m talking too much, I try my best to teach my students everything they can learn about their dogs body language and communication to help them be able to train effectively.

I try to point out certain communications from dog-to-dog and dog-to-human all the time.

This is the first in a series on dog communication.  It’s worth spending a little time on each form of body language dogs use to communicate or TRY to communicate to the other being, no matter who it is.

This article is about how your dog communicates with his eyes.

A little bit about the Dog’s Eyes

What can you tell from your dog’s eyes?  Well for sure, whatever they are looking at is where their mind is.  But what about what they are not looking at.  Dogs use their eyes to take attention off themselves when communicating with another being.   The only way you will have a real confrontation from dog to dog is if both dogs are staring at each other’s eyes.  That will always bring on further vocal or body language like barking, lunging, or more.

If two well socialized dogs are approaching each other on a path off the leash (with no owners pulling on them) one of the dogs will soon avert their eyes.  This dog is happy to take the low road and once that happens IF both dogs are well socialized, there will be no conflict.  Start to watch for this on your next off leash walk and you will see for yourself.

Dogs can also use their eyes as part of a warning.  If a dog has a history of protecting resources he feels are his, he will use what’s termed a whale eye at the approaching dog or human.  This is when you can see the whites of the dog’s eyes.  This dog has already stopped what he is doing and has sort of frozen himself over or in front of that possession.  If the person or dog doesn’t back off, the warning will continue into baring teeth, or worse.  You may have experieced this out for a walk with your own dog.  Sometimes our dogs will guard as as their possessions (frequently misunderstood as "protecting us").

What about a totally relaxed dog?  Also shows in the eyes!  Relaxed friendly, confident dogs will have a relaxed eye, sometimes even squinting to show they are ready for interaction.  When you understand this, you can look at any pictures of dogs and you can see in their eyes what they are feeling.  Is he happy?  Does he look confident? Does he look a bit apprehensive or worried?  You can see it all in the eyes.  Start looking at pictures of dogs and you will see what I mean.

So as you can see our dogs’ eyes are not just the window to the soul, they are so much more!

My next dog communication series will be the dog’s mouth.