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Happy November, everyone!
As always, with the start of a new month, we have a new training challenge for you and your dog! (This also applies to different species, so if you have a bird, cat, turtle, or something else, you can also participate! You might just want to make a couple of adjustments.)
This month, the training challenge is to learn your dog’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you!”
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we really focus on learning body language and building observation skills in order to better support and navigate the world with your dog. Honestly, you won’t believe how much it will make a difference in your relationship with your dog. Communication is a two-way street, and as much as we expect our dog to learn our language, we need to learn theirs.
This month, we are going to zoom in and talk about one small aspect of our communication with our dogs and that is the way we pet them. Humans are primates. We use our hands for everything, we hug and kiss and sometimes smother other beings. It’s the way that we show love and affection!
But, when we look at other species that we might share our home with, that isn’t how they show love and affection. So, we need to bridge that gap. How do we do that?
We learn our dog’s “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you!”
Now, each dog is an individual, so it’s up to you to learn your dog’s language, but in general here are some examples of “Yes, please!” and “No, thank you!”
*Only try this if your dog does not have a history of problems when touched (including, but not limited to, snarling, growling, shivering, cowering, snapping, or biting). If your dog does have problems when touched, then work directly with a qualified behavior professional like Pet Harmony to address your dog’s concerns.
|“Yes, please!” might look like your dog…||“No, thank you!” might look like your dog…|
|Moving closer||Shifting their weight away|
|Pushing into your hand||Walking away|
|Putting your hand on them||Whale eye|
|Doing a well-practiced behavior||Turning their head away|
|Getting soft eyes||Not moving closer|
|Giving you a big, silly smile||Holding their breath|
|Giving you no choice in the matter||Anything short of a “yes, please!”|
How do we go about learning this? We spend some time interacting with and observing our dogs.
So what does this look like?
Wait for a time when your dog is soliciting attention.
Very gently, slowly, and softly, reach your hand out toward their shoulder. Stop about halfway to their body. This is how we ask “is this what you want?”
Pause once you reach about halfway and observe your dog.
What do you see? Do you see something on the “yes, please!” Or “no, thank you!” list?
If you see a “yes, please!” continue moving your hand and make contact with your dog. Softly pet or scratch your dog.
After 3 seconds, lift your hand away a few inches, and pause. Again, we are asking “is this what you want?”
Observe what your dog does. They may be finished and give you a “no, thank you!”. If you see a “yes, please!” continue for another 3 seconds and repeat. You may find that your dog will adjust so that you can scratch or pet their favorite spot, like behind the ears, or on their chest.
If, at any time, you get a “no, thank you”, remove your hand and give your dog 3 seconds. You can ask again. You may present your hand in a different way, like toward their chest, or their chin. Again, very gently, slowly, and softly, reach your hand out toward them. Stop about halfway to their body. This is how we ask “is this what you want?”
Pause halfway and observe your dog.
You may find that, while your dog was asking for attention, scratches might not be what they want! It might be to play or to go outside. And that’s okay! We respect their “no, thank you!”
Let’s simplify it!
You ask your dog “Is this what you want?” – Offer your hand halfway to your dog and pause.
Does your dog say “yes, please”? Then pet your dog for 3 seconds, remove your hand, and repeat!
Does your dog say “no, thank you”? Then pull your hand back, if your dog stays, you can ask again, but maybe change your offer.
If they walk away, then you have a very clear answer!
The beauty in communication
Over time, you might start to see patterns develop in your dog’s preferences!
For example, Laika loves her left armpit to be scratched.
Griffey likes to be rubbed on the top of his face.
Laika prefers morning scritches (much more “yes, please!”) and Griffey finds certain lotions to be horribly offensive (much more “no, thank you!”, well, to be honest, I’m not sure that “no” is that subtle).
When we know our dog’s preferences, we can better meet our dog’s needs. If they need some time and attention from us, we can give them the type of social interaction they prefer.
And, when we develop this system of communication, our dogs learn how to ASK for social interaction in the way that they need. It’s a beautiful thing when our dogs can request for their needs to be met.
- Practice seeing subtle signs of communication. This blog on body language (includes cats too!) provides resources to learn more about body language!
- Determine what your dog’s “yes, please!’ and “no, thank you!” looks like. How do they communicate?
- Practice the routine with your pet: “is this what you want?” → “yes, please!” or “no, thank you!” → respond accordingly.
- As you find out your dog’s preferences, we’d love to hear about it over on our pet parent Instagram @petharmonytraining! Tag us in your videos, pictures, or stories. We’ll be sharing some of our own as well!