Understanding dog behavior and an experiment to try with your own dog
The instructor directed us to watch the Great Dane as she approached him from the front. What was his body posture? Was he on his toes showing some confidence and eagerness? Or was his body compressed, tightly pulled inward or leaning back? Was he breathing normally or did he freeze and curve away from her? Did he suddenly freeze or step backwards? At what distance did he seem most comfortable with her and when did that change? What was the dog telling her in the slightest of body movements?
This is just an example of one of the dog-human interactions I had the chance to observe at one of the Suzanne Clothier sessions I attended in November of last year. To say the two sessions I attended were mind-expanding would be an understatement. It was enlightening and educational and exciting. I learned more than I can possibly put into words. If you’re a dog behavior geek like me then you know what an opportunity it was to be able to attend these sessions.
Suzanne Clothier is one of the premier experts on understanding dogs and dog behavior. She observes them on a level that most of us don’t even see because she breaks them down into the smallest components before putting them together to get the whole picture. What made the sessions so valuable was our ability to see these dog behaviors through her eyes. In the case of the Great Dane, we learned he was most comfortable with a personal space that was three times the length of his body, meaning he demonstrated fear and nervousness when his personal space was violated. He would freeze, hold his breath and curve backwards as someone entered that space. We learned that dogs often need more space than we do and that we are constantly violating that space. Knowing that little bit of information can make such a difference in how we interact with dogs – both our own and others’ dogs.
So many of us misjudge our dog’s behavior (myself included) or fail to see what they are telling us because we either lack the knowledge to recognize what they are communicating or we are too busy to pay close attention to the slightest changes in behavior. It’s not easy to see what our dogs are telling us. We have to be both knowledgeable and aware.
That’s why I thought I would share this interesting video with you today. I think is a great example of how much we can learn from our dogs if we are paying attention to what they are telling us. In the video, you observe two dog’s reactions to touch. I encourage you to watch it and then try it with your own dog. What were the results? What did you learn? Was your dog’s reaction a surprise to you or did you already know what would happen? It’s always fun to learn something new about our dogs. I would love to hear what you found out.