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Space in Dog Language

Space is a really important concept in dog language, which is why in my dog training programs one of the first exercises I teach is an old exercise I got from a trainer friend Carol Underwood, who learned it from Dick Russell and Larry Benoit. (Most dog training techniques are learned from other dog trainers, skills passed down since the dawn of time it seems. Anybody who claims to come up with something COMPLETELY NEW! is probably just marketing at you).

Being aware of space with dogs is really important – if you watch dogs with each other, pushier, older, more dominant dogs command more space and respect.

Kai is an excellent example of this in his play interactions (likely because at 12 weeks of age, he jumped on Dax’s face, Dax picked him up like a rag doll and threw him about five feet)

If you see, though Kai dearly would like to chase Ellie and play tug with her little toy, she’s giving him the Mother Eye that says “hey you dumb squirt, don’t jump on me”. And Kai, being a sensible fellow, doesn’t argue with a mature female.

When you think about space as a social signaller in canine language, demanding and getting others to cede space is dominant. However, most people teach their dogs at a very young age that jumping and space invading is rewarded, and the natural reaction to being treated this way by an adult dog is to retreat. This means that you’re yielding to your dog being a butt, ceding them space, and essentially confirming that you’re the low man on the totem pole.

People aren’t even aware they’re doing this.

So what to do?

Channel miss Ellie and expect to have space. If your dog jumps on you, turn the tables and walk right into them. Expect your dog to move when you walk into them, and walk right through them if they don’t. As silly as it seems, this is a daily interaction that you have with your dog that gives you a quiet, simple, golden opportunity to say “Hey, kid, I buy your kibble so I’m the boss of this outfit.”

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