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Improve Your Dog Reading Skills – Part 2

This week we’re going to take a look at part 2 of one of my favorite youtube trainers, Kristin Crestejo. You can check our her previous video, part one, here: Improve Your Dog Reading Skills: Part 1

In part part of the dog series, Kristin Crestejo is going to cover tails, ears, and body shape of the dog. Dogs communicate from head to tail. Each movement adding a small piece of information to the entire conversations.

Take the tail for instance. Ever heard someone tell you about how they “never saw it coming” when their dog or a friends dog snapped at them? “His tail was wagging the whole time!” they will say. Just because a dog’s tail wags, doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is happy to see you. You have to look at the whole picture. What height is the tail? How fast is the tail moving? And better yet, what is the rest of the dog’s body doing? Learning to read all of a dog’s body language can help you prevent bites and increase the trust you have between you and your dog because he or she know you will understand what they are saying.

Before, your dog would build, and build and build in stress, going from:

  • Oh, no! what’s that?
  • I don’t like it
  • It keeps coming!
  • Oh please GO AWAY
  • AHHHHHH!!!!

By having this better understanding of what your dog is saying to you, you can interrupt him or her before the dog gets to panic mode. By preventing the panic or fear in the first place we built the bond between canine and human.

  • Oh no! What’s that?!
  • I don’t like it
  • *You interrupt and guide the dog away from the thing the dog is worried about*

Videos like Kristin’s and blogs like this help to make humans become more aware of what their canine friends are trying to tell them. Watch part two of Kristin’s dog behavior blog below:

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Improve Your Dog Reading Skills – Part 1

This week we’re going to take a look at one of my favorite youtube trainers, Kristin Crestejo. She lives up in British Columbia in Canada and has a lovely youtube series on various dog topics. What I like most about her videos is that they include both some written/spoken descriptions of the behaviors as well as numerous videos and clips of dogs performing them. This is ideal because it is one thing for me to describe to you how a dog who licks his or he lips is showing a stress signal but another one entirely to be able to see it for yourself.

In part one of the dog series, Kristin Crestejo is going to go over the beginning signs of discomfort called “stress signals.” These are small little movements or behaviors that your dog begins to show when they are starting to feel uncomfortable in a situation. The ability to recognize these small signs has been priceless to me as a dog training and dog lover. I can see the moment in a training session when the dog starts to say “hey, you know, this is starting to be too much, I’d like a break” I can instantly ease up on whatever exercise we’re doing and see an immediate response in the dog. This type of two way communication between human and dog is what really solidifies the bond between the two diverse and unique species.

On the safety side of things, stress signals are the preliminary warning signs to a dog who bites or snaps at someone or something. They’re the “hey knock it off” signals that tell other dogs they’re uncomfortable. Most, well socialized, dogs can read this behavior instantly and respond. Most humans however cannot.

Videos like Kristin’s and blogs like this help to make humans become more aware of what their canine friends are trying to tell them. Watch part one of Kristin’s dog behavior blog below:

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DogDecoder – Learn to Read Body Language

Is Diamond being Aggressive or Playful?

This past week I took on a client with a fearful aggressive dog. This dog had bitten a few people in the past, a few warning bites that didn’t break the skin but the last one did draw blood. They, much like many owners, felt overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. They struggled to see a future where their dog didn’t bark, lunge and snap at strangers or even themselves. The even sadder thing was these owners had tried to address the issue early. They done a puppy class, they had tried a private trainer, they even tried various calming medicines and hired a behaviorist. But sadly all of these attempts seem to make his nervousness worse. The puppy class used choke chains. The private trainer used a shock collar. And by the time the behaviorist got to them, all parties were worried he was too inset in his ways to change at two years old. It was truly a sad situation and I completely understood why they both needed help and were tentative of yet another attempt that could ultimately fail.

As I worked with their little dog, who started the hour long session charging out of the room barking and lunge progressed through the session to walking around the house with me and sitting whenever I stopped. By the end, he was tentatively following me around and would even LAY DOWN in front of me to get a reward. I was thankful, the owners were thankful and the dog was thankful. I didn’t think he was too far gone. He would take a lot of work to get back on track and would need to be monitored closely, but his saving grace was that he clearly was trying to tell others through his body language how nervous and fearful he was. When I started to listen to that, and respect it, our bond increased and a tentative trust formed. Overtime, I told his owners, by learning to listen to what he is telling you will form a strong bond of trust. Having this trust will be key to allowing us help him overcome his other triggers like having (strangers!) friends over, or approaching someone (stranger!) on the sidewalk. But trust and listening to what the dog was saying was a very key step #1.

To further them and to help you become more skilled at learning about what your dog is trying to say, I wanted to show you an awesome little phone app called the DogDecoder. This amazing little phone app was designed by Jill Breitner, a trainer who after many years of dog training realized how few people can actually read the signals your dog is desperately trying to give you. It is available for just $3.99 and works on both iphones and android smart phones.

For those of you without a smartphone or those unsure if the app is worth the $3.99 price tag, there’s are some awesome free videos to see this content online:

Reading dog body language –

Recognizing signs of a dog bite –

Identifying dog play and dog interactions –

The $3.99 app has two different modes. One is essentially an encyclopedia of behaviors. You can click on each one and a cartoon version of a dog named Diamond in some situation will appear. Then you can click the info button to get a written description of what is happening in the scene. Finally clicking the details button will get overlay the image with pointers telling you exactly what body signals Diamond is giving. Here is an example below.

First the app will show you a behavior.
First the app will show you a behavior.
Then the app will describe the signals your dog is giving you.
Then the app will describe the signals your dog is giving you.

The other mode gives you a five question quiz mode which shows you a picture of a behavior and you have to determine how the dog if feeling. Here you have to decide if Diamond is being aggressive with the puppy or is she playing with the puppy. The difference determining how you should react if you see this situation taking place.

Should you interrupt the behavior (so the puppy doesn’t get hurt) or if you can let them continue to play being reasonably sure Diamond is playing nicely?

Is Diamond being Aggressive or Playful?
Is Diamond being Aggressive or Playful?

If you said let the play continue you are correct! Both the puppy and Diamond are showing great play signals that are telling each other “Hey this is fun!” and telling you “Don’t worry we’re having a blast!” But as you can imagine if Diamond were giving different signals, of which the puppy (being young and naive) will likely misinterpret, how it would be up to you to intervene otherwise Diamond will. This is often why under-socialized young dogs at dog parks or other dog filled areas get into altercations because their owners don’t see the signs from their own dog or the other dog. They fail to interrupt or distract their puppy before the other dog has to react.

Dogs try everything they can possibly can to try and avoid causing harm to another person or dog, but if all those other things like body language, moving away or hiding, fail they’re left with only one option to take: a bite. Through learning to read those signs and teaching others to read the signs, we can be closer to our dogs and listen to what they are trying to tell us.

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Dissecting Doggy Body Language

This past weekend I attended the Rescue Me Seminar put on by the Iowa Weim Rescue and hosted by Iowa State. One of the first talks was given by Dr. Suzanne Millman an Associate Professor of Animal Welfare. She talked to us about how to “Maintain Harmony When Adding a Pet to your Home.” Her talk was filled with all sorts of great tips for maintain peace when you introduce a new pet (of any species) to your home, especially if you already have some furry critters living there.

One of the main points she drove home is the planning involved in bringing home a new pet. Even more so than just focusing on the physical things they’ll need like a bowl, food, collar etc, but really look at the reason behind getting another pet in the first place. There are no wrong answers, but think through the following questions and ask yourself.

Before getting a new pet ask yourself:

  1. Why do you want to get a new pet?
  2. Who will be affected by this new pet? (Humans AND Animals)
  3. What risks are involved and to whom?
  4. Create a plan to introduce the new pets and come up with plans for any conflicts.
  5. Ensure YOU have the time to address these conflicts and concerns to allow harmony in your home!

This talk was particularly relevant as last summer I added a new dog to my crew, Luna. Luna is a 2 year old rescue from AHeinz57 in Adel. She was terrified of people, so much so that I would classify her as being a feral (or wild) dog. She would attempt to flee if anyone came within 65 feet of her. When I went for a meet & greet, I spent over an hour with her, as she built up courage to sniff my hand. I knew I would be in for a challenge! (I wasn’t wrong, it took her over 3 days to venture from her crate! Another 2 weeks before she would sit on the couch.)

For those five questions above, I wanted to get Esther a new canine friend. Rufus had passed away about 5 months prior and she was getting lonely (despite going to work every day) without another canine to communicate with. I knew I had a dog, and two cats, already. So I would need to pick out a dog that was calmer and had zero prey drive to chase cats. After meeting Ms. Luna I was fearful of her not ever being able to trust humans again, or worse yet that I had picked out another companion for Esther who wanted to do nothing more than hide. But we persisted. And now Esther has a best buddy. They sleep, play and go to work together. Every day Luna gets a little braver and everyday she sinks deeper into all of our hearts <3

Here is one of their first captured “play” session. This was almost 6 months after I adopted her. I disabled the audio on the video (because who wants to hear me yammer at my dogs) but also because it really illustrates how quietly (and quickly!) dogs communicate with each other. Much like in Dr. Millman’s talk, this is a supervised play session. Without me being there, Luna is too inept at reading dog language and Esther is too intolerant of her crazy play “boxing,” – there would definitely be a dog fight without me supervising. In the video, first we’ll watch the minute long play session, then we’ll break it apart to see the individual signals Esther gives Luna (which Luna ignores) and how I act as an interpreter between them. This helps either from going over their threshold, which you can think of like a tipping point of becoming overwhelmed and reacting to what’s going on around them. Enjoy!