Canine Communication & Body Language
In order to train successfully, is it important to understand your dog’s communication. When a dog experiences stress (whether this is good or bad such as excitement vs fear), this raises their arousal levels. During this, stress hormones will increase in the blood. If it occurs at high levels or over a longer period of time, it can take up to 72 hours for these hormones to return to baseline levels, which means the dog will be in a higher state of arousal during this time. Using calming enrichment activities can help to reduce this quicker.
Every animal (even humans!) has a limit for how much stress they can cope with, this will differ greatly depending on the dog’s life experiences, genetics, diet, living environment and health/medical conditions. Each activity that rises a dog’s stress levels (even good stress like excitement), proceeds to add more ‘water’ to the dog's ‘bucket’, and if this continues eventually the bucket will overflow and the dog will have a reaction. Sniffing, licking and chewing are all naturally calming activities, which is where the enrichment activities come into play! All activities which encourage these behaviours help to calm the dog and create positive associations.
Dogs communicate through a variety of tactile, auditory, visual and olfactory signals. The most important factor to be aware of is body language, as this is the primary way dogs express their feelings. If we miss the subtle signs that the dog is uncomfortable, this can then result in the dog going further to express their emotions. Understanding subtle body language cues will be key to our training. It takes time to observe and learn every subtle cue, however this is the best starting point towards building a strong foundation for communication.
The Canine Ladder of Aggression depicts the stages of escalation a dog may take when expressing their discomfort with a situation. It is important to note that some dogs may skip some steps, depending on their learning history.
I highly recommend the video below to all my clients which shows real life examples of these subtle body language signals in dogs.