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What every dog owner needs to know

What every dog owner needs to know

Whether you are new to dogs or you have a always had a dog around the place, there are a few things that you need to understand about your basic canine.

How to approach a dog

In our human social world, it is considered polite to approach another person from the front, to look at them and maintain eye contact when we interact. But for many dogs, this type of approach can be intimidating, particularly if the dog has no chance to 'escape'. Be aware that staring directly at a dog, leaning over him or hugging him may trigger defensive or fearful responses. Until you have developed a bond and he trusts you not to hurt him, it is safer to approach your dog from the side and to use the back of your hand to initiate contact. Keep your eyes 'soft' by lowering your eyelids a little. If he is still worried, glance at him, then look away, with your chin lowered and with a slightly bowed head. If you find that you have locked eyes with a dog, blinking slowly a couple of times often helps to let him know that you are not intending to threaten him.

How dogs learn

Dogs are born with a natural desire to learn new skills. They work on a motive-and-reward basis, as do humans. Dogs are also able to piece together sequences, which makes them really quite easy to train if we, as their guardians, get things right.

 Dogs use a complex system of body language with each other and with other species, including humans

Dogs naturally repeat behaviors that gain a reward and should therefore give up offering behaviors that earned them nothing. Easy? Well not necessarily because, as well as all the other exciting or yummy things you give him, your dog sees getting your attention as a reward.

For example, if you take advantage of his quiet moments to catch up on phone calls or jobs around the home without acknowledging that your dog is behaving in the way you like, he may learn to seek your attention by snatching your diary, incessantly barking or digging in your favourite flower bed. As far as a dog is concerned, negative attention is better than no attention at all. So...don't ignore him when he is lying quietly in his bed or crate or playing on his own in the garden. Praise him when he is offering these desirable behaviors and give him a treat, even if you have not actually asked him to do anything specific, and he will know he is doing the right thing.

How dogs communicate

Dogs use their body posture to communicate with other dogs and humans. In order to be good teachers we need to be excellent students, and learning your dog's body language will help you to understand him on a new level. All owners recognize the more apparent dog language, such as growling, whining, or barking, and you may be

familiar with the variety of barks your dog uses to express himself, but dogs also use very subtle body language. (Some of these have been noted by Turid Rugaas, and her book On Talking Terms with Dogs is a recommended read for anyone who owns or works with dogs.)

Always look at a dog's responses in the context in which they are happening. For example, lip licking can be a sign of anticipation if the dog is waiting for his food or expecting a treat and this is usually accompanied by bright, shiny eyes and forward-pointing ears. However, a dog that drops his head and flattens his ears while licking his lips is probably feeling threatened or unsure. Sniffing the ground and scratching can be a sign that a dog is taking time out because he is unsure, is tired or is getting confused. If your dog constantly scratches his neck when you are trying to teach him new skills, you may be overloading him. Do some TTouches, go back to an earlier exercise or give him a complete break.

Take the time to observe your dog when he is in a new environment, also watch him when you approach him, work with him and when he greets other dogs and people. If you look for early signs of concern, you can take the appropriate action to ensure that he remains as calm and as confident as possible. Dog-watching can become a fascinating pastime, too.

A bright expression and forward ears reveal that this lip licking is a sign of anticipation

From 100 Ways to Train the Perfect Dog, Copyright by Sarah Fisher, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with D & C

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