It’s easy to make mistakes when training your dog if you misinterpret its body language. Most of us recognise the overt signs of fear, worry or submission; the desperate look in the eyes and turned-back position of the ears, the tucked tail, rolling over showing the belly, submissive urinating. But less overt signs such as panting, yawning or looking away are just as important to watch for and a wagging tail that in some instances means happy alertness, in others means worry and trepidation.
It’s easy to respond in exactly the wrong way to your pup’s signs of stress because this is the one area of dog training that is opposite to how you would respond to a child’s distress. Every day at the London Veterinary Clinic we see a few dogs that simply don’t want to be there. Typically, a dog will cower behind its owner who responds with petting. Occasionally a dog will growl at us and to calm its worry, its owner will speak to it in “motherese” – that octave higher soft voice - and stroke it reassuringly. In both instances the dogs’ fearful behaviours are unwittingly being rewarded. If you want to avoid reinforcing unwanted behaviours it’s necessary sometimes to think counter-intuitively. During a training session, if your dog shows any of negative body language signs, it’s stressed. Don’t reassuringly kiss and cuddle your pup. Instead, stop training and give it something else to do. Work out why it was stressed and either avoid it or don't repeat what triggered it.