What is your dog telling you – Reading a Dogs Body Language
The ability to read a dogs body language can increase effective communication and training
Bird dogs are highly observant creatures that have the ability to read their owner’s every move. This can be unsettling at times, especially when you find your dog staring at you as soon as you think about going out for training or hunting. However, this is because they have been studying your behavior since the day you brought them home. They have become bilingual behaviorists, capable of understanding both human and dog language. It is important for us to reciprocate this effort and attempt to understand their language as well. By doing so, we can develop a harmonious relationship with our dogs and improve our hunting experience.
Canines rely heavily on body language to communicate with their surroundings. According to Roger Abrante’s book, Dog Language, motivation plays a crucial role in a dog’s behavior and
communication patterns. Fear, aggression, dominance, and submission are the primary motivators behind a dog’s facial expressions and body postures. In the wild, it is essential for dogs to learn pack behaviors and mimic social behaviors to ensure their survival. Similarly, motivation is critical when teaching dogs tricks or exercises.
To achieve optimal results in dog training and bring out their hunting abilities, it is crucial to understand how to use motivation in training and interpret their body language. Dogs express their thoughts and emotions through their body movements, and every detail can be read like a page in a book. By observing the slightest twitch of their paw, ear, tail or eye, it is possible to predict their behavior and train them accordingly.
In gun dog training, it can be difficult to read a dog’s thoughts without seeing their face. By learning to read their body language, you can avoid mistakes and capitalize on trainable moments. Mistakes set us back in training, while trainable moments provide learning opportunities to move forward. New handlers often avoid mistakes, but this denies their dog the chance to learn. For example, introducing puppies to game can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the pup. Some need to pursue and capture game to promote drive and predatory instincts, while others may have their pointing frequency decreased by learning they can catch. Reading a dog’s body language is crucial in determining their needs.
Understanding the communication of dogs allows us to comprehend their thoughts and predict their behavior, leading to better timing and success in training. This knowledge is essential for any successful trainer.
Break It Down – What Are They Saying
In a photo captured by Nancy Anisfield, four bird dogs are seen sitting in a field during their daily run. The photo inspired me to think about the correlation between a handler’s ability to understand their dog’s mindset and body language. The dogs in the photo exhibit different mental states – calm, alert, and alarmed – based on their posture and body language. The far left dog needed to be forced to sit, resulting in a slightly alarmed expression with half-moon eyes and a head, eyes, and spine alignment that suggested a desire to be elsewhere. The second dog from the right was obsessively focused on a bumper and was pacified with it, though it would prefer to be alone. This dog also exhibited an alert mental state. The far right dog, on the other hand, patiently and obediently waited for whatever came next, exhibiting a confident and calm mental state. Overall, the photo showcases the ability to read and understand a dog’s mental state through their body language.
Starting from the nose, a dog’s anatomy includes the nostrils, which allow them to smell up to 100,000 times better than humans. Moving down to the mouth, dogs have sharp teeth for tearing and grinding food. The ears are also important, as they help dogs hear sounds from far away. The neck connects the head to the rest of the body, which includes the chest, abdomen, and hindquarters. Dogs have four legs, each with a paw that includes pads for traction and claws for digging. Finally, the tail is used for balance and communication, with different positions indicating different emotions.
A hunting dog’s success hinges on its nose. It is crucial to understand and acknowledge their acute sense of smell to guide their behavior in the field. Identifying when they are tracking game, following old scents or chasing non-game is essential for optimal performance.
The nose of a pointing dog is a crucial tool for understanding the situation. By observing the structure of the nose, one can determine if the wind has shifted, if the scent has been lost, if the bird is stressed, wounded or about to fly. The nostrils of the dog move independently of each other, allowing for stereo scenting. This enables the dog to sample air currents and locate the bird, angling its nostrils towards the scent.
As a developmental dog, it is common to crowd the scent cone when locating a bird. This behavior helps them learn how to use their nose to decipher the variants in the scent that signal the bird’s impending escape. The scent of endorphins released prior to flight, blood on crippled birds, increased respiration, and departing body scent of moving birds all elicit reactions from our dog, which we can read and use to our advantage.
During the learning process, dogs improve their accuracy and develop their pointing instinct towards the fringes of scent. This is a crucial skill for upland hunting as it allows them to successfully pin birds without crowding them. It’s impressive how quickly dogs can learn this skill. With just a few hours of training, a finished gun dog can successfully handle new species from across the country. The key to success is the dog’s nose skills and its ability to scent discriminate and adapt its behavior to specific scents and bird behavior. The trainer’s role is less important than the dog’s natural abilities.
Dogs can communicate their level of submission through yawning and licking their lips. When training a distracted adolescent ADD alert dog, it is common for them to resist and have alternative ideas about what they want to do. However, through persistence and insistence, we can get our dogs to comply with our training demands. During this process, there may be a moment when the dog lets out a low level submissive whine, followed by a yawn and licking of the lips, indicating their acceptance of our demands. This behavior shows that the dog has become more compliant, at least for the time being.
Dogs use their gums and tongue to assess their health. They have a Jacobson’s organ behind their top jaw incisors which they use to bite the air and taste and smell simultaneously. This is called the Flehmen response and is seen when they are tracking or excited by a female in heat. Keeping their gland moist by watering them frequently helps them capture scent more efficiently. Overheating causes panting which hinders their ability to scent well. Cooling them down is crucial to improve their safety and productivity in the field.
Read Their Eyes
Communication with a dog is most effectively done through eye contact. It is crucial to train your dog to focus on you and wait for your commands.
When working on steadiness with my dog, I always approach from the eye to have visual influence and avoid challenging them from behind, which can lead to ownership issues. During the process, I may notice my dog becoming alarmed by my presence, indicated by the whites of their eyes showing. In these moments, I adjust my behavior to be more supportive and encouraging to help embolden my dog.
The eyes of a dog are highly expressive and can be hard to resist. However, giving in to their manipulative tactics, such as “The Puppy Eyes,” can lead to inconsistency and unpredictability in our training approach. It is important to stay consistent and not let our emotions get in the way of effective dog training.
In the end, our dog’s ability to track and locate game is paramount. When they lock in on the scent and their eyes bulge forward, we know without a doubt that the game is there and ready to be harvested. It’s in these moments that we truly appreciate the hard work, time, and money we’ve invested in our hunting pursuits. So take a moment to look into your dog’s eyes and be grateful for the skills that your breeder has provided.
Read the Ears
Training a dog on a lead requires close attention to their ears. They are a valuable tool, second only to the eyes. From a long lead position, I can determine the dog’s level of responsiveness to me. I can quickly assess whether I am achieving the desired influence or not.
A dog’s ears can provide valuable information about its behavior. When a dog is alert and engaged, its ears stand forward and erect. If the dog is alarmed or submissive, the ears fold back. If the dog is ambivalent or passively disobedient, the ears will lay flat. In young dogs, decisions can change rapidly and often, so it’s important to watch their ears to know when to encourage or discourage certain behaviors. By keeping the dog’s drive and focus on the bird, rather than on you, you can accomplish this. Watching their ears provides instant feedback to achieve this goal.
Read the Tail
The tail of a dog can be misleading, but it can also reveal a lot about what the dog is thinking. When a dog’s tail flags on point, it’s not ideal as it often means the dog is in the process of breaking. This is commonly referred to as “The Catch Tail” and can indicate that the dog is about to catch, lacking intensity, or is nervous. Improper training can encourage flagging, so it should be avoided.
A dog’s tail can communicate a range of emotions and behaviors. A puffed out tail may indicate fear, aggression or over-excitement, while a happy tail can signify a dog that is eager to learn and work. However, a happy tail can also indicate stress or anxiety. A drooping tail suggests questioning, confusion or displeasure, and the dog may resist or avoid certain activities. While negative reactions can be useful in certain situations, it’s important to avoid creating passivity around important areas of development.
Watch the Body
Teenage boys tend to exhibit certain mannerisms when their new girlfriend comes over. They may walk and talk differently, try to appear dominant and become defiant. Interestingly, dogs also display similar behavior when they stand taller, puff out their chest, and hold their tail high. Their ears become erect, and they appear larger than life, not listening to commands.
It’s important to remind your dog that you are the leader and they should focus on the task at hand. This is especially important if your dog is dominant and exhibits aggressive behavior. However, it’s also important to bring submissive dogs back into balance. Both types of dogs need to be reminded of their pack position to maintain a healthy dynamic.
During steadiness, a dog may exhibit various behaviors that indicate their level of self-control and readiness for the flight of a bird. These behaviors include dropping their chest and body close to the ground, laying down completely or standing soft and small, flagging or pulling off the bird. For dogs in the process of breaking on a bird, their body may tense up, weight shifts and load up prior to the pounce, giving the trainer time to make the necessary correction.
Feet and Legs
The classic point with the foot up is a common sight among hunting dogs. Contrary to popular belief, this position simply indicates that the dog is between steps and the pointing is strong enough to lock them in place. Some hunters have even suggested that the front foot up indicates a woodcock, while the back foot up indicates a grouse. Regardless of the type of bird being hunted, this step is crucial for a successful hunt.
A dog taking a step while pointing can result in missed shot opportunities due to the scent cone being disrupted. This behavior is often due to the dog’s inability to control its emotions and can lead to a creeping behavior. Allowing even one step can lead to a chain reaction, resulting in multiple steps and a loss of control. By keeping the dog’s foot planted on the ground during pointing, the muscles engage and the leg flexes, allowing for time to prepare for any necessary corrections.
Watch the Dog’s Spine
A dog’s spine alignment is a crucial indicator of their intent during training. A straight spine displays confidence while a curved spine can signal dominance. When teaching retrieving and recalls, proper spine alignment is essential for lining drills. It allows the dog to align itself with the desired line of movement. The head and eyes may not always reveal the dog’s true intentions, making spine alignment an important cue for trainers to observe.
Why it’s Important to Read Your Dog
Handlers often overlook their dog’s needs in their rush to reach the finish line, missing out on valuable training opportunities. It’s important to pay attention to your dog’s behavior and learn from what you see. Taking the time to observe and understand your dog’s needs will pay off in the long run. Good luck with your training endeavors and watch your Dogs Body Language.