Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language and Threshold

I know that a couple of posts ago I said that Odin was not going to be in training classes for a while, well I signed him up for some more that were added last second to the class schedule. We started an advanced obedience class last night that prepares dogs for obedience competitions. The class requires multiple dogs to be training in the same class which can be a little challenging for Odin as he gets reactive around other dogs (not aggressive, but frustrated that he cannot get to/play with the other dogs).

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Being able to read Odin’s body language is an important communication tool to have during these types of situations. I need to be able to tell when he’s reaching his threshold and respond before hand to ensure that he does not become reactive during class. Once a dog goes over their threshold, learning shuts down and their emotions take over. Once Odin goes over his, it is hard to get him to settle down and focus on me. By being able to recognize and read Odin’s threshold, I can ensure that he never crosses it.  I know that when Odin is about to reach his threshold, he becomes very focused on the other dogs and stares at them with his ears up and he is very alert. As soon as I see this I work on getting his attention back on me. In class, I do this by bringing out his rope and seeing if he wants to play a game of tug or I use his marker word “Yes” to bring his attention back on me and give him a treat. Both ways work at ensuring that he does not go over his threshold. When on walks, if we see another dog I wait for him to bring his attention back to me for a treat, if he does not then I will use his marker work “Yes” to bring his attention back on me. If he is still not responding, I know that it is time to leave the situation and will head away from the approaching dog.

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As your dog cannot verbally communicate with you, it is very important for handlers to learn what their dogs bodies are communicating. You can learn to read and recognize your dogs behaviors and evaluate what their body language means. This is especially helpful for dogs that are reactive, over-excited, anxious, fearful, aggressive, etc. as you can read when your dog is becoming uncomfortable and can remove them from the stressful situation.

Dogs communicate using body language signals that reflect how they are feeling. Learning these signals ensures that you know what your dog is trying to communicate. In addition, the best way to recognize if your dog is going to go over their threshold is by understanding their body language.

Image Source: Lili Chen, https://www.doggiedrawings.net/

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