Dogs use body language as more than seventy percent of their communication processes. Each part of their body conveys subtle messages; from the top of their ears to the pads on their feet, and to the tip of their tails. Once you understand this “sign language” you can utilize it when interacting with and training your dog. Using your own body in a manner that your canine friend understands will increase his willingness to work with you, making the training process more enjoyable.
As a general rule, the larger the dog tries to make his silhouette the more dominant the display. When a dog crouches, cringes or pushes his body into a corner, the more submissive his attitude. You can use these basic positions when training your dog in that when you give a command or correction you make yourself look large. When you greet your dog, praise him or play with him you crouch down to his level and make yourself appear on more equal terms.
A dog’s eyes are the windows to his emotions. While it takes years of experience to determine whether a dog has a hard or soft eye, there is a simple manner in which to learn of his attitude towards you. A direct stare without blinking is a hard eye, an assertive challenge. Never turn your eyes away first or your dog has won that challenge. A look with blinking is called a soft eye. The dog is relaxed and happy, not challenging. A dog who will not look at you is submissive. Don’t force the issue, be patient.
Using your own eye contact is helpful when teaching your dog the meanings of your vocal communications. When giving a command look at your dog. When giving a correction, stare at him. When praising your dog, you can look at him, but be sure to blink and not stare. He might appreciate it more if you gaze into the distance than stare him in the eye.
Mouth positioning is another means of crossing over the canine/human communication barrier. A dog with an open mouth, lightly panting is relaxed and happy. A closed mouth can mean the dog is alert or nervous. A yawn is a sign of stress. A wrinkling of the lips in front without a show of the side teeth is a sign of submissive greeting, so do not become frightened if a dog comes up to you wagging its tail with wrinkled lips. He is smiling at you. An aggressive dog will show its rear teeth with the side lips wrinkled. He will also stare directly at you, so this cannot be misconstrued as a greeting, for the eyes of a greeting dog will be blinking and not staring directly at you. In fact, the head will be slightly tilted or turned away from you.
When working and interacting with your dog, smiling is helpful unless your dog is very dominant, in which case, a smile can trigger even more challenges from him. Smiling when greeting your dog encourages his desire to come to you. Smiling when playing is fine, unless the play gets rough, in which case you should keep your lips together. When giving a command or correction, do not smile. Your dog needs to know you mean business.
There are many other body nuances which can help you understand your dog better. If you are interested in learning more about these, there are many books available. Having a full understanding of how your dog communicates will aid you in teaching him the human language. Should you use consistent messages, within a short time your dog can understand upwards of 200 words and visual cues.