Getting your Message Across to your Dog

Dogs learn all about the meanings of sounds and body language when they’re puppies by looking at their mom and litter mates. So, your dog is going to get to know you by watching the way you move, by checking out your expressions and listening to the tone of your voice.

Body Language and Eye Contact:
Your dog is naturally good at reading body language. Just test this by smiling, backing up a few steps and spreading your arms the next time you call her to come, and see how much faster she gets the message.

While most dogs are able to understand our body language, too much exuberance around pets can send them confusing or scary signals. “Don’t talk baby talk to your dog or swoop down on her to pick her up or pet her,” says Loomis. To the canine mind, swooping down from above is an extremely dominant gesture. If your dog looks a little leery when you bend over her, knee down to her level and rub her chest rather than reach over her head to pet her.

The same goes for eye contact. Some dogs don’t mind being looked straight in the eye, while others do. If it unnerves your dog, you’ll know because she’ll look away, way her tail low and try to appear smaller.

Make eye contact with her briefly, and give her a gently smile. Chances are she’ll soon get used to human signals by watching interact with family and friends. Then she won’t care how you pet her as long as she gets attention, and she’ll cheerfully return your admiring gaze.

Meeting Strange Dogs:
Swooping down on a dog, bending over her, and making unwelcome eye contact should especially be avoided when meeting a strange dog, cautious Loomis. Improperly socialized dogs may take it as a threat or a challenge and answer with their teeth. If you want to make friends with a strange dog, make yourself inviting and nonthreatening by kneeling down at an angle to the dog and looking to the side of her, not directly into her eyes. Wait for her to come to you, then tickle under her chin or gently scratch her chest instead of raising your hand over her head.