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Chapter 7. Your dog’s psychology – understand how your dog thinks

Understand how your dog thinks

Take the time to understand and know how your dog thinks. Dogs do not think they are people, they think people are dogs. As the owner, you need to relate to the dog as a dog, rather than a furry person! Most important – you’ll need to establish the fact that you are the top dog in their pack – you are the alpha dog.

One of the reasons why dogs make such good pets is the wonderful way they communicate with people. Your dog sees people, especially you, as an extension of its own canine family and is quick to interpret your mood and intentions.

In fact understanding how your dog communicates can make living with one a lot easier, especially when it comes to training. Dogs communicate through a series of signals
including a variety of facial expressions, body postures, noises and scents. By understanding these body signals you should be able to work out who is ‘top dog’ in any confrontation or situation.

Just as people convey body language so does your dog!

His body:
A dog that is feeling confident or aggressive will try to convey the impression of being a larger, more powerful animal by standing tall with its ears and tail erect. He might thrust his chest forward and may raise the hairs around the neck and along his back (its hackles). It may also wave its tail slowly and growl.

A submissive dog will try to appear small and puppy-like because adult dogs will only chastise puppies – not attack them. The approach to a more dominant individual is likely to be from the side, crouching low with the tail held low and wagging enthusiastically. Some dogs try to lick the feet and face of the dominant dog or even roll on to its back.

Tail wagging:
Loose, free tail wagging is a sign of pleasure and general friendliness. Exaggerated tail wagging, which extends to the entire rump, may be seen in subordinate dogs as well as those dogs with very short tails. However, the tail is also an indicator for other emotions. A tail waved slowly and stiffly, in line with the back expresses anger; a tail clamped low over the hindquarters is a sign the dog is afraid or anxious; and nervous dogs may stiffly wag their drooping tails as a sign of appeasement.

The look:
The facial expressions of your dog will also tell you a lot about his mood – whether he is playful, excited, frightened, or anxious.

The ears are pricked when he is alert or listening intently, but are held back or flattened onto the head when expressing pleasure, submission, or fear.

To read his mood correctly, watch the eyes. Your dog’s eyes will be wide open if it is angry but will appear narrow or half closed eyes when showing pleasure or submission.
Eye signals are an important part of communicating with your dog and allow you to assert your authority. In the wild, the pack leader can maintain control simply by staring at a subordinate dog. In most cases, the two animals will stare at each other until one challenges the other or until one lowers its head and turns away.

Stern eye contact can be a good way of disciplining your dog and reminding him that you are the boss. Try to avoid a showdown. Remember – regular, gentle eye contact between you and your dear companion is reassuring for your dog and will go a long way towards reinforcing your relationship.

Talk to your dog. Tell your dog you love him every day. Even if you don’t say "I love you" to your four-legged friend, look him square in the eyes and say something – anything. We all like to be acknowledged as members of the family. Dogs understand human language more than we give them credit for. Get your dog’s attention just as you would a person: Use his name and look right at him. Many times the owner calls out the dog’s name to scold him. Instead, it’s far better for your dog to learn that pleasant words – no matter what they may be – follow his name. Most important, your relationship will be better as a result of these intimate daily dog talks. We all like to be confided in and told we’re loved. Dogs are no exception.

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