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By Connie Dillon

Answering an inner call a few years ago to serve our four legged friends, particularly dogs, I was inspired by the research of several mentors who have done exceptional work in describing the body language of dogs. Like wolves, dogs use a variety of signals through their body language to prevent conflicts and to make friends with other dogs and people. They also use signals to calm themselves, other dogs, and people when they feel unable to cope in a situation, or are anxious, fearful or in pain. We can learn these signals to increase our ability to understand and communicate with dogs.

A dog’s signals are usually subtle and swift in movement, appearing as soon as it needs to create a safe atmosphere for itself and/or other dogs and people. Following are a few of these signals, some of which we may also use effectively with dogs:

• Turning the head sideways. Dogs often do this upon meeting another dog to express a friendly, non-confrontational encounter. When approached by a dog displaying hostility, you can turn your head and whole body sideways in hopes of soothing him.

• A dog also may walk in a curve to indicate a friendly approach to another dog. We can approach a fearful dog by walking in a curve around it rather than directly at it.

• Yawning may mean more than being tired or bored – your dog may be scared or worried. You can yawn back to settle and relax him.

• A dog may sniff the ground to let an approaching dog know that there is nothing to fear. We can sit down and pluck grass to simulate this signal.

• Wagging the tail usually communicates happiness, but can also be a way of soothing us; or, an indication of a dog feeling fear.

Dogs that have difficulty meeting and socializing with other dogs or people can relearn their language, as without it, they can be the source of threatening situations. They are deeply sentient, emotional beings that are highly communicative and intelligent. By becoming aware of a few of the signals dogs use, we may perceive what they are feeling and respond to them in their own language, in turn, becoming a little closer to these magnificent companions and their mystery.

Connie Dillon owns Dillon’s Dog Training with Awareness.

Note: This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 1999 issue.

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