Communicating with our dogs goes both ways, of course. We need to understand what they are trying to tell us, and need to find ways to let them know what we expect of them! For both, it really helps to think of the situation from the dog’s point of view. Dr. Bruce Fogle says that “A dog doesn’t expect to be treated like a human. A dog expects a human to act like a dog.”
This is so true! Our dogs probably look upon us as some sort of deformed, two-legged canines! They try very hard to “read” us, but it’s always within the context of their own instincts and natural language. (Slight side-track here: the DNA of dogs and wolves is almost identical. What distinguishes dogs from wolves is their ability to read human body language and understand us. It isn’t because they’re “smarter” — wolves have better problem-solving and thinking skills than dogs. It’s because for our entire history together, humans have “selected” the dogs that could understand us best!)
One way to communicate with dogs on their own terms is BODY BLOCKING. It’s simple, useful in dozens of situations, easy, and your dog will know EXACTLY what you’re getting at. In a nutshell, Body-Blocking, is using your physical presence to control your dog’s behavior. Dr. Patricia McConnell says that , “one of the ways that dogs maintain leadership positions is by controlling the use of space of other individuals.” As the should-be leaders of our canine companions, we can do the same — without aggression, confrontation or stress!
A good example is a dog crowding the door, squirming as close as she can, pushing to be the first one in line to bolt, squeezing out as soon as her nose fits through the crack. This is risky for owner (fall hazard!) and the dog (gaining access to a dangerous space) besides making the dog think she’s higher in the household chain of command than we’d prefer.
I like to calmly place my body (mostly the legs, obviously) between the dog and the door and “herd” the dog away. I don’t say much, usually a quiet, “Back!” repeated a couple of times. Once the dog is far enough away for the door to open, I turn back to do that. If the dog crowds closer, the door shuts and I repeat the “herding” move. (I often ask for a sit, especially if there’s more than one dog because it gives them something to DO.) Basically, the door won’t open and stay open until the dog waits and is released with an OK.
This is also a way to tell a dog to back off from just about anything. I “lay claim” to things the dog tries to get by standing over them or in front of them. These things can be people (a guest the dog has tried to jump on), other pets (a cat the dog tries to chase), things (a counter that the dog has just tried to “surf” for goodies, or a toy that one dog has growled at another dog over.) It’s my way (borrowed from my dog’s vocabulary) to tell the dog that the person/pet/object is MINE and I congtrol who gets it! And you know, it works! Dogs understand — they might look for loopholes at a later time, but that’s another topic!