How to Read Your Dog for a Stronger Relationship

According to an article called ‘Dogs and People: Exploring the Human-Dog Connection’, domestic dogs are regarded as humankind’s earliest companion, with a bond that has endured throughout centuries. Dogs have taken on a variety of roles in our lives: guardians, working partners, beasts of burden, hunting guides, and above all, companions. Over the years, both humans and canines developed different cues that allow us to tap into these bonds and communicate with one another. In this article, we’ll provide you with tips on how to read your dog and improve your overall relationship:

Look at their body language

Because we aren’t mind-readers, dog owners rely on body language to give us hints on what dogs are feeling. As highlighted in The Dog’s Mind: Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior, we’ve built up a substantial body of knowledge on the psychology of dog behavior. We know that they do have a unique way of perceiving the world around them, and can suffer from stress or other negative emotions. Body language — from their eyes and fur, down to their tails — can tell you something new.

In terms of stress, it’s important to look at your dog’s posture and mouth. A calm, relaxed dog will have four legs even on the ground, with no muscles strained and a slightly open, relaxed snout. On the other hand, fearful dogs may arch away from you and keep their body close to the floor, muscles strained. Finally, dogs may have the “zoomies” — where they run around erratically — as a way to blow off stress. Keeping an eye on these signs, and looking out for potential stressors can greatly improve your relationship with your pet.

Pay attention to sound

Dogs do have verbal cues, which helps us figure out what they’re thinking and feeling. Quiet, calm panting that sounds like light breathing is a good sign, and this breathing becomes slightly heavier when they’re energetic or on-the-move. However, heavy panting or whining means your dog is in need of attention, as they’re expressing discomfort. Common dog sounds we know like barking or howling are usually done to express themselves, whether this is directed to you, to other dogs in the area, or strangers they don’t trust. Interestingly, it’s not just about the sounds a dog makes either. Canines are particularly sensitive to the things they hear. Recent research from the University of Glasgow suggests music can affect a dog’s behavior, and even calm them down if they’re feeling antsy or restless. Moreover, you should definitely pay attention to your tone of voice when speaking to a dog. Other studies suggest that dogs understand human language, particularly when the high-pitched “baby talk” tone is used for words like treat or walk.

Observe them in the company of other dogs

In his book Wonderdog: How the Science of Dogs Changed the Science of Life, UK-based wildlife expert and science writer Jules Howards notes that dogs have sociality built into their genes, and feel powerful attachments with one another. Thus, watching dogs at play with members of their own species can teach you a lot about your pet. For example, dogs tend to gravitate more towards other dogs that play similarly to them. From there, you may develop a better idea of how exactly your pup likes to play as well, like whether they prefer more high-energy or relaxed activities.

We’ve talked about helping older dogs socialize better with other canines in a previous post titled ‘How To Socialize An Older Dog’, and the same advice applies: let your dog hang out with other dogs you both already know. Think of your dog as a student, and the other dogs as their teacher; obviously, you’d want them to learn from a well-behaved dog with an even temperament. As a pet parent, you should spend a lot of time watching your fur babies, so you can understand their unique communication styles.

Article written by Ruth Justine

Exclusively for Pacific Pups Rescue

Image credit: Pexels

How To Socialize An Older Dog

Socializing an adult dog can be a challenging task, but it’s important to do in order to help them live a happy life. This is especially important if you’ve recently adopted dog that’s passed their puppy stage, as they may have had few positive experiences with other dogs and people. 

The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help your older dog happily socialize with other dogs. Keep reading to better understand how to help your older dog get along with other canines.

1) Start In a Neutral Territory

When socializing a dog, starting in neutral territory is important. This means finding a place where your dog has no previous associations (or the dog they’re socializing with). 

The most common place to do this is outside, away from your home. Many people choose parks, but it could be anywhere neither of the dogs would claim as ‘their’ territory.

This helps remove the possibility of territorial aggression, which flares up if there are any areas or items around that one dog may feel possessive over. When you meet in a neutral place where neither dog has, in their mind, ownership, you substantially increase the chances of having a pleasant greeting.

If you’re unsure if a place is a neutral territory, just ask yourself if either dog would have any reason to be territorial or protective. If the answer is no, then it’s probably a good place to start socializing your dog.

2) First Social Introductions Should Be With Dogs You Know

When you’re first socializing your older dog, it’s best to do so with dogs you already know. This way, you can be more confident about how they’ll behave around your dog and a general idea of their temperament. 

If you don’t know the other dog well, there’s always the potential for things to go wrong. For example, suppose the other dog is overly excited or aggressive. In that case, it could scare your dog and make them hesitant to socialize in the future.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so when you’re first starting, only socialize with dogs that you know and trust. The best place to start is to do this with friends or family where you’ve spent time with the other dog and know the people who’ve trained them.

The first interactions are significant because they have a large impact on how your dog will socialize in the future. You can think of these first introductions as your dog being the student and the other dogs being their teacher. So naturally, you want to make sure the teachers you choose are well-behaved and know how to socialize well with other dogs.

The behavior they observe from the other dog(s) will shape how they behave around other dogs in the future. Of course, it’s not set in stone if things don’t go as planned, but it definitely sets your dog up for success when choosing well-behaved dogs to socialize with first.

3) Reward Good Behavior

One of the most important things to do when socializing your older dog is to reward them for good behavior. This could be anything from a treat to petting them and telling them they’re a good boy/girl. 

The key is to make sure you’re rewarding the behavior you want to see more of. For example, if your dog is being friendly and playful, praise them for it. 

On the other hand, if they’re showing signs of aggression or fear, you’ll want to avoid accidentally rewarding this behavior. This means giving them no attention after seeing them behave this way. 

Simply remove them from the situation and ignore them. One of a dog’s biggest rewards is getting their owner’s attention, so ignoring them is punishment in and of itself without having to be physical with them.

It’s crucial that you be consistent with what you reward and what you don’t reward. Dogs are very good at picking up on patterns, so if you’re not consistent, they’ll quickly catch on and start to ignore your commands.

4) Try New Interactions After Progress Is Made

Once you’ve made some progress with socializing your older dog, it’s time to start trying new things. 

This could be anything from meeting new dogs to going to new places. The key is slowly introducing new things and ensuring your dog is comfortable with each step before moving on to the next. 

For example, if you’re going to introduce your dog to a new dog, make sure to do it in a controlled environment where both dogs are on a leash. This way, you can prevent any fights from breaking out and make sure both dogs are comfortable.

Once your dog is comfortable meeting new dogs, you can start taking them to new places. This could be the dog park, going for a walk in a new neighborhood, or anything else you can think of. 

The key is to take things slow and not overwhelm your dog. If they start to show signs of stress or anxiety, it’s best to take a step back and make sure they’re comfortable with the current level of socialization before moving on.

5) Obedience Classes Are Always An Option

If you’re struggling to socialize your older dog, obedience classes are always an option. 

In these classes, your dog will be around other dogs and people in a controlled environment. This is a great way to help them create positive associations with socializing if you’re struggling to do it on your own. 

Obedience classes are also a great way to bond with your dog. These classes will teach you how to better communicate with your dog and understand their body language. 

This is an important skill to have when socializing your dog because it will allow you to better understand their needs and when they’re feeling uncomfortable.

2 Important Things To Keep In Mind

When socializing your older dog, there are two very important things to keep in mind. 

Firstly, don’t push them. If they’re not comfortable with a particular situation, don’t force them into it. This will only make things worse and make them more resistant to socializing in the future. 

Secondly, keep a close eye on their body language. Dogs communicate a lot through their body language, and it’s important to be able to understand it. 

For example, if a dog shows signs of stress, such as panting, yawning, or licking their lips, it’s a good idea to give them some space and remove them from the situation. 

By understanding your dog’s body language, you’ll be better able to read the situation and remove them if things turn for the worse.

Final Thoughts

Socializing an older dog can be challenging, but it’s possible with some patience and consistency. 

Remember to take things slow, be consistent with your rewards and punishments, and try new things gradually. If you’re struggling, obedience classes are always an option. 

Most importantly, keep a close eye on your dog’s body language and don’t push them if they’re not comfortable. 

By following these tips, you’ll be on your way to socializing your older dog in no time!


About the author: Alec Littlejohn is the lead editor at Pawscessories. He grew up in a family of vets, is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and is a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association Of America.