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Learn to Speak Dog

Originally published in November 2019 newsletter

I have finished my Fear Free course and I am now a Certified Fear Free Professional! I would like to summarize some of the highlights that I have learned throughout the course and how it applies to not only veterinarian visits but to everyday life.

Every module in the course included content about body language and learning how to observe the dog or cat and assess how they are feeling.  Once we as pet owners can learn to read our dogs’ body language, we begin to recognize when our dog is scared or stressed and can then take the steps to make our dog as comfortable as we can.

When dogs get scared they respond in one of 4 ways:

  • Fight (lunging, biting, aggressively barking)

  • Flight (trying to get away, ears back, looking away)

  • Freeze (standing still or laying down)

  • Fidget (barking, jumping, mounting)

Understanding how our dogs as individuals tend to react in different scenarios can help us discover what signs to look for before the dog reaches their threshold.

We can also use desensitization and counterconditioning to change how the dog feels about certain situations. For example, if they are stressed about vet visits, go to the clinic every few weeks to weigh them and have the staff give them treats.  If they are worried about walking in new locations, only go for 5 to 10 minutes instead of an hour.  If they are scared around new people, when visiting a friend or family member, again only visit for 5 to 10 minutes while making sure to keep your dog working (sits, downs, go to mat or tricks) and receiving treats to help with counterconditioning. 

I try to emphasize body language in my classes, behaviour consults, and in seminars such as Reactive Dog, Be a Tree and Understanding Your Dog’s Behaviour.  I hope you will take the time to educate your yourself to further understand your dog. Some good resources for learning body language are below:

written by Anne-Marie Mayes CPDT-KA RVT

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