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Speaking Your Dogs Language ~

I hope you truly understand that it takes more than simple “TLC” (Tender Loving Care) to give your dog what it truly needs in terms of a pack membership that makes sense to a canine.

I am very serious about you learning to interpret the dog’s body signals, facial expressions, postures, and sounds. Your dog expects you to understand all this. Another dog would…

At the same token, you cannot afford to be an ineffective communicator when it comes to conveying to your dog what you feel about a given situation. Your social interaction with the dog has to be on the dog’s terms of communication – but on your terms as far as the pack leadership goes. You don’t have a choice whether or not you want to be pack leader for this dog. You have to. If you don’t want it, then please find another home for the dog…

A classic example is smiling. A human smile means peace, happiness, content, comfort – when given to another human. When given to a dog, it can be mistaken for a serious threat signal that forewarns of imminent attack, particularly if associated with prolonged eye contact… (Yes, dogs can and will learn that those human threats are generally not meant seriously – but that is an unnecessary stress in the relationship…)

Another example: An adult person will often convey acceptance and encouragement and supportive feelings by touching a kid on the top of the head. The very same gesture, when used on a dog, conveys a very threatening attempt to grab it and eat it… You take on the role of the eagle that is out for puppies for lunch!

And one more: a hug is the ultimate way for a human to convey affectionate love and connection to another human. When used to a dog, it instills fear of confinement – the dog feels trapped and will be extremely uncomfortable…

I am pretty sure that you do not intent to convey any of these messages to your dog.

The thing is that if you were to adopt a child from a country where people speak a language that is different from your own, you would most likely try to learn at least the fundamentals of that language, so you could communicate with your new family member. Seriously, why is your dog any different? It is a new member of your family, and it has no way of understanding English….

The most important pieces of Dog Language you can learn for start is how to say “hi”. In contrast to modern habits in the human world, dogs take greetings very, very seriously. Wolves greet each other every day – several times every hour they are awake! Greeting means more than “hi” – at least for a dog. It is an affirmation of the bond between two pack members. Through their greeting, they confirm to each other that they do indeed belong to the same family – they like each other, and they are committed to supporting each other. Pretty powerful wows! (For dogs that meet each other for the first time, this may not be exactly what is going on, but discussing this will go too far for now.)

Let us look at a typical greeting ritual for dogs. It contains the following elements:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Indirect approach
  3. Nose-nose contact
  4. Sniffing ears, side of neck, and shoulders
  5. Sniffing rectal area, genitals, and bum.

Let’s translate the meaning of those elements.

  1. Eye contact means acknowledging each other’s presence. It means very much the same as for humans. Not making eye contact is ignorant – and too much eye contact is rude or provocative. The difference between people and dogs is that the time standard is shorter for dogs. A staring for, say 1 second, might be OK and non-provocative for a human, but for a dog it is too much to be perceived comfortable. Half a second would be better – just a glance is enough. Until the relationship is consolidated. At such time, prolonged staring simply becomes an expression of affection and love, just as for humans
  2. Indirect approach means the opposite of an attack… A hunter aiming at a prey would go directly for it. Dogs are polite and signal to each other that they have no hunting intentions – and they do that by aiming, not directly at the other dog, but at a point somewhat a body length to the side. It is as if they are just about passing by each other as they come close…
  3. Nose-nose contact is the key element of the greeting. Exchange of the most important information takes place via the nose. Both ways. The nose is the most powerful sense the dog has, so it wants to use this instrument to gather as much information it possibly can about the other party. Sniffing another dog’s nose is a very effective way of getting information; blood vessels are very close to the surface of the skin, so all kinds of chemicals from the blood are released into the air that is blown out when the dog exhales – right into the nose of the other dog! As we already discussed, dogs will get a lot of personal information out of this. They will know the mood of the other party, the rank, the stress level, and many other important things we can only guess about…
  4. Sniffing the ears, the side of neck, and the shoulders is the next step. This area will contain a lot of information about the other party’s history. Whenever dogs find something truly interesting, they always roll themselves in it – thus leaving whole cakes of “manure” on the sides of their necks… Well, that’s the canine way of making a photograph of something that was worth memorizing. Remember, we talk about animals for whom nose is many times more important than eyes!
  5. Sniffing rectal area, genitals, and bum. “I want to see you naked” – that’s basically what it means… revelation of the true intimate personality. Now dogs don’t have a problem with nudity or dress code, so this is not in any way offending – unless you are a female and just aren’t really ready for the courtship demonstrated by a male that is a bit too loving…

As you see, greeting in Dog Language is far more than just saying “hi”….

But let us discuss the aspect of how you can express yourself in this language!

  1. Eye contact: Sure, you can do this – just take into account that the time should be shorter than what you would do to a human. Half the time is fine.
  2. Indirect approach: this one is simple when you know it – you just aim at passing by the dog, right until you are the very closest you can come – then you turn your body around on the spot and meet face to face!
  3. Nose-nose contact: This one is tough…. there are two options:
  • The dog brings its own nose up to your nose level – which means it has to jump in order to reach… Any truly polite dog will do that. Or at least try.
  • You bring your nose down to dog level by squatting down, putting your bum to your heel…

Just make sure that you turn your head down and away when the dog tries to lick your face. Licking is, in the greeting ritual, most often a sign of submission, which you should appreciate. A confident pack leader, you respond to this submission with peacefulness – in this situation best shown by turning your head away and down (down, in order to avoid showing your throat, which a pack leader cannot do…)

  1. Sniffing ears, side of neck, and shoulders: Well, you can use your nose if you want – but the experience is just as valid for the dog if it can feelthe touch of your hands. Touch is touch here, so by using your hands, you can actually do an even better job than any dog would be able to with just one nose…
  2. Sniffing rectal area, genitals, and bum: Oh yeah, you can do it! Don’t be offended when the dog turns the bum towards you – it is simply an invitation to confirm the greeting! The most peaceful way the dog can signal its acceptance of you. Give that bum a good rub and enjoy your pack membership! You do not have to do it with your nose – a hand will do. And: don’t be offended if the dog wants to sniff those areas human society has taught you are private… From the dog’s side, it is nothing more than an appreciation of your true personality.

YES – you can do this! And you can do it every time you have been out of sight of your dog for just 10 seconds. I promise – the results are amazing. In just a few days, you will see a significant improvement in the dog’s happiness for seeing you.

I hope you understand that this issue is serious – and that we only scratched the surface… *Mogens Eliasen

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