Learning Never Stops, Ever!
As a professional I am always learning and working to understand dog language and behavior more and more. I try new techniques with Luna Belle all the time. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying out three new behaviors with her. In this blog post, I’ll share what I did and what I observed and how it has changed my interactions with Luna Belle.
First, I’ve stopped petting my girl like I used to. I noticed reaching to scratch the top of her head or rub her face, as I've been doing all the time without thinking, she turns her head away slightly, a calming signal. I found by observing that she doesn't like being touched like this when her head is up (either standing, sitting, or on the ground, always with head up). But when she's lying down relaxed, if I lie down with her, she will nuzzle my hand and ask to have the top of her head scratched, with the heel of my palm on the bridge of her nose. Sometimes she'll rub her face into my palm, so I respond by gently rubbing her face and she will respond licking my palm after a minute or two. And we take naps together a lot. She doesn't sleep in my bed overnight (her choice), but when I take a nap during the day, she's up there with me, and nuzzling my hand to pet her in the ways she rejects at other times. Thus I am trying my best to observe, be mindful, and learn from her.
So, when she is in what I now call a "head up" posture, I can gently stroke her back and sides, and now she will also let me rub the side of her face, by the back of her jaw and upper part of her neck. Perhaps it’s a nice massage for those very powerful jaw muscles? She will actually lean in to me (a sign of affection nor needing to be cared for) and lick my forearm while I do that, looking me directly in the eye, eyes and face muscles relaxed, her body relaxed. Her reaction shows me that this is something meaningful to her.
Second, I've been doing experiments in approaching her. She's never seemed to have issues with me walking directly to her, I guess because we have been together for two years now. But I tried to alternate my old straight-towards-her approach, with a curved approach. Just as dogs do with each other, and as you as an owner should do when walking your own dog past others dogs, or when you approach a new dog. When I walk towards her relaxed, not rushed, in a curve, she perks up! Her eyes get wider, her ears stick up more, her shoulders come up higher, the back straightens, her tail wags slightly, her mouth opens slightly and relaxed, and when I'm only a few feet away, she does this funny sort of leap up onto her feet and trots to me.
When I walk straight to her, she watches me, but there is zero change in her body or face at all. Just sits or stands there, watches me, but is still, and waits until I'm right up to her. So even with her owner, someone she's very familiar with and lives with, she reacts differently when I approach her differently, or pet her differently, all based on watching what she's telling me.
Finally, I've stopped being so talkative with her. I'm more quiet with her now, and try to be aware of her body movement, and react to that appropriately. After a day or two of this, I've noticed she spends more time in the house being next to me, following me around more than she used to. She always did follow me around somewhat, but it is now something she does more often. I guess she gets tired of listening to the nonsense I babble about. Not that I make any sense to anyone anyway, and more so, she doesn't understand human language anyway (no dog does, not even yours). But your voice still effects your dog.
I am always experimenting with different techniques and furthering my my understanding or behavior and communication with dogs. Being a trainer does not mean I’m an expert, it only means I continue to learn new things all the time, and continue my professional level education throughout my career, not stopping once the dog training academy gives me a certificate. At least in my view of things. Learn dog language, it takes time, but is fun, and opens a whole universe of dog-ness you never knew even existed!