I was on a run the other day with my Standard Poodle and my Bichon-Shih Tzu mix (yes, the little one DOES like to run!) when a somewhat scary thing happened. We were toward the end of our jog when I heard this panting behind me. As I looked back, I saw a large, intact male dog following us, with his owner nowhere to be found. I stopped dead in my tracks and placed myself between my own dogs and this loose dog. I stepped toward the loose dog and in my most confident and commanding voice, said “go home” and pointed in the opposite direction in which we were traveling. Now at this point, I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But much to my surprise, the dog trotted away and left us alone to continue our jog home.
After this encounter, I thought about how my actions mirrored observations of my own dog as he moderates play between other dogs. If dogs are having too much fun, or if things are getting too out of hand, my poodle will stop their interaction by barking at the dogs and running between them, hence “splitting” them until they are calm. I see this behavior replicated during off leash play time in my puppy class and when I am working with clients at dog parks as well. Obviously, no words are used, but dogs are responding to another dogs use of their body to create personal space.
We must remember that dogs are visual learners, first and foremost. They notice the most subtle changes in our body posture when we are speaking to them, or even just looking at them, and they respond accordingly. We can use this to our advantage to ward off unwanted confrontations, such as I did on my jog, but also to teach different, more desirable behaviors. If your dog is barking at the front door when visitors arrive, instead of yelling at them to stop barking, try an alternate approach. Place yourself between the door and your dog and walk toward your dog to get them to back up. As they move away from the door, you can say “get back.” Often times, simply having them move away from the door will stop the barking as well.
You can also use the same technique if you have that “velcro” dog that follows you from room to room and is frequently under foot. As the dog is entering another room right behind you (such as a bathroom), turn toward your dog when they are right at the doorway and say “out.” Step toward your dog if they try to enter the room, then back away to see if they understand they are not to cross the threshold. Repeat, if they try to enter the room again. Remember to praise your dog if they choose to go in another room, lie down, or simply look at you with adoring eyes.