Puppies 102

More fun facts about dogs, these for the most part from Patricia B. McConnell's The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (New York: Ballantine, 2002).

1. Perhaps 75%* of "dog training" is actually training their humans to give them clear signals about what the humans want the dogs to do. Dogs are watching us all the time for clues, but while we are speaking in primate, they are listening in canid.

2. Humans, chimpanzees and bonobos tend to greet each other by looking at each other's faces, ideally into each other's eyes, and extending their hands. They also like kisses and, above all, hugs. Dogs hate hugs because they understand them as gestures of dominance, not affection. They will tolerate them from members of their human "pack" but they are never happy about it. Nor do they like strangers to look them in the eye; again, for dogs, this is a gesture of aggression, not intimacy. Likewise pats on the head: dogs find this rude, particularly if they don't know you already. Polite dogs who do not yet know each other approach each other at more or less a right angle without looking at each other directly in the eye.

3. Most of the time when humans think they are teaching dogs to respond to verbal cues, the dogs are "listening" instead to the way in which the humans' bodies move. While we may be more or less unconscious of the way in which we hold our shoulders or point our feet, our dogs are watching these postures as signals for what we want them to do. Like fencers, dogs are also experts at "keeping distance": they are extremely sensitive to their personal space and can feel threatened simply if you move your body forward by half an inch. Likewise, they will feel calmer if you back up just a smidgen.

4. Most of the time when dogs "don't obey," it is because humans are giving them confusing signals. Saying "Come," and then bending or walking towards a dog just confuses it. The dog is looking for cues about what direction you want it to go. He or she will come much more quickly if you turn your feet and head in the direction that you want him or her to come. Saying "Come" and bending forward, on the other hand, is the best way to get your dog to "stay" because, effectively, you have just moved into her personal space and thus signaled her to stop.

5. If a dog is moving towards you more enthusiastically (or aggressively) than you would like, back up and hold your hands close to your body. Do not try to push it away with your hands. Dogs don't push each other away with their paws, so, again, it just confuses them when we use our hands to try to make them "go away." Instead, use your shoulders or hips to body block the way dogs do.

*I'm making this up. Let's just say "most".

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