A Tail Waggin’ Resource for All Your Canine Communication Needs

We recently wrote about understanding dog body language, but are you wanting more? Care to brush up on your Doggish-to-English language skills? Discover reasons for raised hackles, growling, and paw raises? How about learning the differences between your dog’s variety of barks?

Well, have we got a special treat for you! Our fellow certified trainer friends and colleagues have officially launched their iSpeakDog website, and we’re beyond thrilled. (You can tell just by our body language – smiling, jumping for joy, and whoo-hooing around the office!)

The folks who are heading – and tailing – up this breakthrough event are sharing all-things-dog-communication. This FREE informational platform includes everything interactive from Q&A to how-to videos. You’ll find an abundant collection of resources to help decipher what your inquisitive canine may (or may not) be saying.

Starting on March 27, 2017, their kickoff launch has a calendar week filled with free webinars. There are also handy downloadable handouts, including this one: three questions to help you speak dog. You can even join in on the campaign and iSpeakDog-ify your own images – just remember to add the #iSpeakDog tag!

Sydney J. Harris once said, “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Thanks to the iSpeakDog crew and their array of resources, information is within reach and readily available for you to become an expert at canine communication.

#iSpeakDog

Don’t Speak Woof? Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language

Have you ever wished that you and your dog spoke the same language?

While we don’t share the same vocal language, when you really think about it, we can very effectively and successfully read each other and mutually communicate our needs nonverbally, using body language.

In fact, most of what your dog has to “say” is communicated through her facial expressions, body poses and postures. Some of the key areas of your dog to watch are her head, eyes, mouth/tongue, legs, and tail.

For the most part, canine body language is predictive, universal throughout the species, honest and reliable. Sometimes the expressions can be more subtle, but even with an untrained eye, it won’t take you long to learn what your dog is saying.

You probably spend a fair amount of time watching and observing your dog already, like when she’s playing and frolicking about, having a grand old time. This is a wonderful thing to do. This gives you insight into what she looks like when she’s relaxed. You might notice things like her ears are in a neutral position, her mouth is open and tongue may be hanging out, her tail is down in a loose position (not rigid or tucked), and her gaze is easy.

How about other times? What about your dog meets someone new? Goes to a new place? When she sees something she’s never seen before? Or hears something she’s never heard before?

It’s important we observe our dogs during these times as well; their body language will tell you what they’re thinking. For example, if your dog is on alert but not necessarily behaving in a manner us humans would interpret as fearful or aggressive, you’ll notice numerous signs that she’s assessing the situation. In this case, her ears might be pointing forward, as if trying to pick up a sound, her mouth might be closed, her tail up but not necessarily bristled and maybe even moving side to side, and she may also be leaning forward – all of the things people do when we are trying to make a judgment call about the safety of our surroundings.

And there are several telltale (telltail?!) signs that can help clue you in when your dog is alert or aroused, scared or defensive; these may include hackles raised, tail either straight up in the air like a flag (more alert) or tucked under her legs (more concerned), lips curled and perhaps showing teeth, ears either forward or flattened back, and body shifted forward slightly or lowered. Some of these signs indicate defense, whereas others are more friendly. Raised hackles doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is being “aggressive.” On the flip side, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean “happy.” Remember, each dog is unique and different, so the more you get to know your own inquisitive canine, the better you’ll become at reading his or her emotional state – and the message your pet is trying to communicate.

Learning how to sharpen your canine-human communication is easy when you know what to look for.

THE BIG PICTURE:

  • Take a mental snapshot of what your dog looks like (how she acts) when relaxed. This is a great way to establish a baseline of your dog’s friendly behavior.
  • When observing your dog at any given time, look at the entire picture, not just a piece.
  • Be aware of your dog’s surroundings and the possible effects it may have on her behavior. Anything new? Different? Something she might be afraid of?
  • If and when your dog shows any change from that baseline-relaxed appearance, try to determine what the trigger might be, then take note. You may want or need to do some pleasant association training to help your dog relax. The more familiar you are with how she expresses herself, the better able you’ll be able to help her alleviate fear and anxiety and remove her from situations that make her stressed and/or aggressive.

To help you keep track of the various body language your dog displays, please click here to download our DIY Inquisitive Canine Body Language Chart. And, to go further into the world of canine communication, check out the iSpeakDog.org website where you’ll find an assortment of resources to help your communication skills.

What does your dog’s body language tell you? Is there something specific he or she does that you know means something special? Let us know what your inquisitive canine is saying!


Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

Building Trust with Your New Bashful Bow-wow

Dear Inquisitive Canine, 

Shy Puppy in Class

Our new Shih Tzu puppy hides from us, only coming out when no one is around. She also lowers her head when we pet her. I know it takes time, but I’ve heard some dogs will start interacting with their new environment after 1-3 days, and tomorrow will be her third day here. I just want her to be

a happy puppy. What should I do and how should I do it?

Renee T.

Dear Renee,

Poncho here! My certified dog trainer mom thought it best if I take this one. First off, allow me to say “atta girl!” for being inquisitive, aware of your situation and taking the time to ask questions about your new puppy. I’d also like to commend you for being such a keen observer of her body language and your ability to listen to what she’s “saying.”

Once a young pup myself, I can speak firsthand as to how learning to trust new people, places and situations takes time and practice. I’m happy to pass along a few simple dog training tips you can use to help your wallflower fido become the more confident canine you’d like her to be.

Treats, Love and Understanding

Let’s start with a few knowledge nuggets regarding the topic of fear. I’m talking about fear as it relates to her feelings, her emotional state and her ability to make her own decisions.

The primary stage of your dog’s life when she’s most open to new people and situations is 0-3 months — a very narrow window in which sociability wins out over being afraid. If your pup wasn’t introduced to a variety of people and situations during this time, then chances are it’ll be tougher for her to adapt, since the fear response starts to win the race as she ages. However, not all hope is lost. You can certainly teach her anything she is physically and mentally capable of doing, including trusting and enjoying her new life with you and all that’s in it!

Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Keep It Simple. During this crucial teaching time, you’ll want to keep things simple and fun. All you have to do is pair something your bashful bow-wow might be uncertain about with something she already loves! For instance, since we animals must eat, you and others can provide extra-yummy goodies for her, such as pieces of grilled chicken or steak (I love when my mom does that!), allowing her to approach you. If she’s still hesitant, try tossing pieces toward her, building the trail of trust till she is confident enough to approach.
  • Adjust Expectations, Little by Little. Believe me, you’ll want to take baby-steps when working with her. As long as she continues to advance toward you, accepting your kindness and that of strangers, you can keep forging ahead at a slow-and-steady pace. If and when she decides to back off, respect her wishes and allow her to make that choice.
  • The Triple-P of Giving Treats. Once she begins to show signs of confidence, coming toward you and being close to you, begin hand-feeding her. Others in your home can do this as well. As she gets more comfortable, you can begin the Triple-P Treat Training Plan: Pet, praise, then present the treat. Petting should begin with light touches under her chin, working your way around as she gets more comfortable. And — this is really important — all petting should be followed with a yummy nibble of treat goodness. I recommend making the top of her head the last location, since hands reaching over will cause her to pull back.

As for additional situations and locations, repeat the same steps in places you want her to enjoy hanging out. Over time, she should learn to believe that her new world is a fantastic place and her confidence should build, making it easier for her to accept and believe that novelty is the spice of life!

Paws and Reflect

Fearfulness is a normal reaction across many different species. Your pup is responding in a way that is innate — avoiding in order to survive. It can be difficult to not take it personally, but keep in mind that developing a relationship with strangers, especially those of a different species, is more about building trust and not about liking. With a caring dog-mom like you being patient, allowing her to set the pace, giving her control over her environment and being able to make her own decisions, your bashful bow-wow will begin to enjoy her life with you in time and blossom into that self-assured pup you want!


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, commonsense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.

Training Tips for Dog-Eat-Dog Sibling Rivalry

Dear Inquisitive Canine:

I have two male Yorkshire terriers, Smokey and Charlie. They are about 2 years old, half-brothers (same father), and up until four months ago they slept together, played with each other and even ate and drank from the same bowls.

After breeding Smokey (in our home), we noticed that he started to become upset at various times toward Charlie — especially when Charlie was around my husband or our son. We’d give Smokey a five- to 10-minute timeout, and then both dogs would be fine.

Over time, we started to notice that Charlie would hide under the dining room table until Smokey would walk away from the food bowl — then Charlie would come out to eat. On occasion, Smokey would come running back, prompting Charlie to run back under the table, so we decided to use separate bowls.

We’ve tried desensitizing them (as our trainer put it), by placing each in their own crate, facing toward each other, barking and going nuts trying to figure out how to get out of the crate to get to the other dog. We’ve taken them to our vet, who says there is nothing physically wrong with either dog.

It has been nearly four months, both dogs are living in the same house but in separate areas, they no longer can be in the same room, nor can one actually see the other without wanting to charge at it.

I’m about ready to give up. Please help!

— Smokey and Charlie’s Mother

Dear Smokey and Charlie’s Mom:

Wow, this is indeed quite a doggy dilemma you have on your hands. I’m sure it’s a scenario you never imagined would happen.

I have to commend you on your keen observational skills. It seems you have become an expert in reading Charlie and Smokey’s body language. Bravo! I’d also like to acknowledge your efforts by having both dogs examined by your veterinarian. That’s a very important step to rule out medical issues when behavioral problems transpire.

Depending on what your goals, you might want to consider the following:

  • If you haven’t done so already, check with your vet on the option of having Smokey and Charlie neutered. There is a higher incidence of interdog aggression between intact males, especially those living under the same roof. There’s no guarantee, of course, but it could help.
  • Continue to keep the dogs separated until you can work with a professional certified pet dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist who has experience with aggression cases such as yours. For help finding a qualified professional, check out these resources for dog owners.
  • Each dog should still have walks, outings and play time with each family member. The only change in their routine should be that they are isolated from each other, unless you’re in training mode.
  • Another management tool is a plastic basket muzzle for Smokey, to help prevent biting. However, this should not take the place of training. A muzzle won’t train Smokey to like Charlie, but it can help prevent an actual bite incident.

You mentioned that you’ve worked with a trainer, but it sounds as if he or she suggested you use a technique called “flooding,” as opposed to “desensitization.” Depending on the individual animal, the anxiety-producing trigger, and timing of your rewards or punishments, can — often inadvertently — make matters worse.

The type of training steps will definitely revolve around the counter-conditioning and desensitization path. This is another type of “exposure treatment,” but one where the anxiety-producing trigger — in this case each dog — is delivered at very low intensity, while at the same time being paired with something each dog loves, such as steak. In a nutshell, the presence of Smokey will predict fabulous and wonderful things for Charlie, and vice versa.

Right now, the mere sight of the other causes emotional turmoil. To reverse that, you need to pair each dog with something the other dog loves, then they’ll learn to once again love each other.

It’s often best to follow a “slow and steady wins the race” plan. Think of it as learning to swim: looking at a picture of a pool, baby toe in the kiddie pool, sitting in the shallow end, wading in the shallow end, walking around the shallow end, face in the water for a split second, etc. As opposed to being pushed off the high-dive into the deep end with no lifeguard around. It’s not the most effective way for humans to learn, and I’m sure you’d agree that dogs don’t learn well this way either.

You’ve done the right thing by managing your environment. You certainly don’t want your dogs practicing behaviors you don’t want, or being subjected to more stressful situations than they have already. Because this scenario has gone on for some time, it doesn’t seem to be getting better and it appears to have put both dogs and humans at risk of injury, I would highly recommend seeking professional help so you can restore your happy canine home. To help find a qualified certified dog trainer, check the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website for a one who can offer services that pertain to your situation.

Wind is Not Motivating for This Inquisitive Canine

Well, it’s the new year and already mom came home with a new t-shirt! She was also nice and smelly, plus seemed to be in a good mood… Something about running in Santa Barbara, negative splits, and seeing other dogs on the “course” (hmph…other dogs…) – must only mean one thing – mom got to go run in one of those silly races that humans like to do… why they run without actually chasing something like a cat or a truck is beyond me…plus I believe they give away some of that green stuff they use to buy me toys and treats…again, I just don’t get it… especially since she didn’t bring me along with her! I had to stay here at home in the dreaded wind! Well, she better take me with her next time… I do enjoy cheering her on at the end. ~~~ Speaking of wind, I normally agree with “Dorothy” and that there is no place like home…except if there is wind and I’m alone. Wind at home is scary – lots of weird noises (where are they coming from?) and as much as I hate to admit it I’m not the tough guy people think I am. Mom didn’t lose all of her brain cells at this race – she saw immediately I was kinda stressed. I tend to get clingy. Plus, I like to keep my tail tucked close to my underneath parts, and I give her the snaggletooth face (she calls it my “Elvis”)…and to top it off, I almost got in the shower with her…I really don’t like the wind…I’m glad mom understands that it’s okay to be nervous in situations I don’t understand… I see her getting dressed and putting her shoes on – maybe it’s time to go places and do things… Keep your head down folks – you don’t want to blow away!