Communication Breakdown

Anthropomorphism is a word I bring up in almost every first lesson. Simply put , it means projecting human characteristics onto non-human objects. From designing cars and houses to ascribing gender to all manner of random objects , we love to anthropomorphize. For the most part it's just another in the endless stream of human quirks, a little mental game we all subconsciously play to make every day a little more fun and comforting.

 Where we get into trouble though, is when we start projecting our thought processes and emotions onto other living creatures. Specifically, on our dogs. A dog who barks at another dog or person walking by their house or yard, or passing by on the street is often regarded as aggressive or defensive by their owners, when in all likelihood it's just another over-excited and under-socialized dog attempting to engage with the world going on around it.

 Our worst case of it is when we attempt toconsole our dog's through petting and talking to them like we would a small child. How many times have you seen someone with a barking, restless dog at the end of their leash try to manage the situation by reeling the dog in towards them and start softly cooing and caressing the dog? What they're doing in that moment, despite the noble intentions, is telling their dog that they are doing the right thing and they should by all means treat every similar situation in the future the way that they're treating this one. Most dogs process our touch as praise and reinforcement that they're on the right track, so when we use these behaviors to try to calm an anxious or reactive dog what we're actually giving them is fuel to continue exactly the behavior we wish to eliminate.

 Even worse is the attempt to physically dominate or intimidate a dog out of problem behaviors through pinning, rolling, tackling, or holding down. Rather than calming any aggressive behaviors this sort of action is much more likely to exacerbate those conditions by communicating to the dog that certain humans are also to be feared, eventually turning a dog that is possibly just under-socialized and under-trained into a dog who will bite if feeling threatened.

 A good step for all dog owners take, aside from hiring a professional trainer of course, is to take a little time to familiarize themselves with some of the more common expressions of canine body language. Dog's primarily express themselves through physical actions, so having a basic understanding is only going to help you understand what your pup is saying and how best to address it.

 I've included a link to a  fantastic poster made by Lili Chen showing many of the more common body language expressions . This is a great place to start for any dog owner. Another wonderful resource are the books on canine body language by Brenda Aloff , you can find all of her material at