Understanding Dog's Body Language and Reactivity
By Jason Wright
October 25, 2018
If you think all dogs that lunge, bark or bite are all dominant aggressive or viscous, you're wrong!
Actually it would generally be either "go away!" (Anger), "get over here and play with me!"(frustration), or "let me get out of here safely!"(fear).
The reason for the barking and lunging usually means that the dog wants to increase the distance between itself and the trigger. Remember communication between you and your dog has to have balance. We ask a lot of our dogs but when they speak to you, do you know how to listen?
Some examples of Dog's Body Language and Reactivity
The dogs center of gravity is low and away from the trigger (whatever is causing him to react). Rear end is tucked under and the legs are bent OR the dog alternates from lunging forward and bouncing away. The dog is telling the trigger that he wants ìt to get away
The dog is bouncy, vocal and rudely runs right up into the other dogs space which also may cause the other dog to react negatively and start a fight. The dog is telling the trigger that he wants to get closer to it.
The dog is standing high and stiff on his toes, with a big chest facing directly at the trigger. The dog is telling the trigger that he wants it to go away.
These are the very basics of understanding body language and reactivity. A dog may have a combination of emotions or signals at once and to the untrained eye it can be overwhelming and confusing when trying to read the communication from your dog.
TIP: Whenever you put your dog into a situation where he has to rely on barking, lunging or biting to get it wants; the dog has now just reinforced himself and is more likely to repeat that behaviour to get what it wants. To the dog, it worked the first time, so why not try again? It is up to you, the owner to either get training, correct the behaviour or learn the management skills of prevention.
Tips to manage/prevent reactivity are:
- Helping your dog AVOID rehearsal of reactivity
- Get professional training and learn how to clearly and effectively communicate with your dog. Dogs do communicate to you before they react to let you know how they are feeling. If you haven’t read its communication properly, it could go right to reacting negatively because his communication to you has been ignored.
- Avoid known triggers on walks
- Reduce visual stimulation
- Prevent face-to-face encounters
- Waxed paper over windows for the dog who won`t stop barking out of the window
- Baby gates for safety
- Beware of dog signs
- Higher fencing
- Muzzle train the dog
The goal with reactive dogs is to manage the problem right away and change the dogs reactivity through professional training so that the management can be reduced or stopped.
It`s better to get help now so the problem doesn’t become worse later.