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Shaping Your Dogs Behavior: Stop, Look, Listen, and Maybe Change Your Own Behavior First

August 19, 2009

When it comes to getting our dogs to change their behavior, sometimes it’s best to change our own behavior first. As a certified professional dog trainer, and loving dog mom to Poncho the dog, one element of communication that I’ve learned is more important than many others is the art of listening. And with our pet dogs, listening also means observing since body language is a dogs first language.

One of our latest Dear Inquisitive Canine advice questions came from a woman who mentioned her dog Colby developed behavior issues after a family vacation. To read the entire column, you can click on the Noozhawk Dog Behavior Advice Column link. In addition to the information in the advice column I’d also like to address two other topics of canine body language and what they might be communicating.


  • Dog Communication and Warning Signals: Our beloved canines have a wonderful way of communicating with body language. It’s their first language and one us humans need to pay better attention to. There’s an old joke: “What do you say to a growling dog?” Answer: “Thank you!” They’ve just told you they aren’t happy about something.
  • Growling Leading to Biting: The “I’m upset” escalation scale for dogs is: freeze-growl-snarl-snap-bite, bite harder, bite even harder – bite harder again… Dogs will continue to progress up this ladder if 1) they feel they are being ignored (“No one is listening to me! Next time I better speak up louder by biting!”), and 2) What they are “saying” is being punished out (“The last time I told my humans I was upset by snapping at them I got in trouble. I guess I’ll have to “‘speak up” louder the next time, which means I’ll need to bite! Maybe then they’ll listen.”)
Remember my dear human (and maybe canine) friends out there: the art of being a good communicator is not just talking – it’s also about listening, or in the case of listening to our dogs, the art of good observational skills.


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