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7 Common Human Body Language Habits that Dogs Find Unsettling.

Updated: Jul 7

A sweet little dog receiving a gentle chin scratch.
A sweet little dog receiving a gentle chin scratch.

Dogs are incredibly perceptive creatures, attuned to the smallest cues and signals from their human counterparts. This is why most trainers use hand signals when training cues. When we board and train dogs, their owners are often surprised at how engaged their dogs are with us. This engagement and trust is because we are aware and intentional with our body language and what it communicates to dogs. While dogs often bring joy and companionship into our lives, it's essential to be mindful of the signals we inadvertently send through our body language. Certain human body language can make dogs uncomfortable, leading to anxiety or even fear. In this blog, we will explore the key aspects of human body language that can make dogs uneasy and offer tips on how to improve your communication with your furry friends.


Keep in mind that all dogs are individuals with various histories and experiences as some may enjoy the following, some may tolerate it, and some may respond adversely. When meeting new dogs, it is recommended that you have welcoming body language that is not challenging and avoid doing the following.


Avoid interacting with dogs in the following ways.

  1. Direct eye contact.

  2. Petting on the head and reaching for their face.

  3. Towering stance, hovering over them.

  4. Fast Movements and suspiciously slow and looming movements.

  5. Hugging.

  6. Loud or high-pitched voices.

  7. Ignoring warning signs.




 

Direct eye contact:

In the human world, making eye contact is often seen as a sign of confidence and engagement. However, in the canine world, direct and prolonged eye contact can be perceived as a challenge or threat. Dogs may interpret it as confrontational behaviour. To avoid making your dog uncomfortable, try to soften your gaze and blink frequently when making eye contact. This signals a friendly and non-threatening demeanour. Some dogs have been taught to make eye contact and desensitized to direct eye contact with their handlers and owners, but they may not take kindly to it from a stranger.


Patting their head and reaching for their face or putting your hand to their nose:

Somewhere, somehow humans have started putting their hands out for dogs to sniff. This is one of the worst things that you can do when greeting a dog and his not recommended.  If you reach for your dog’s head and they duck away, back up, do a downward dog stretch, play bour or start jumping and mouthing you they do not enjoy it and give them space. While some dogs enjoy being petted, patting them directly on the head can be uncomfortable for some. This action can be perceived as invasive or threatening. Instead, try petting them under the chin, chest or on their back, allowing them to approach you and initiate contact.


Towering stance:

Standing tall and looming over your dog can be intimidating. Bending over the hips and hovering over them is confrontational. It's essential to maintain a more neutral posture when interacting with them. Instead of standing directly over your dog, crouch down beside them to their level versus face to face, to make them feel less threatened and more at ease.


Fast movements and suspiciously slow and looming movements:

Sudden, jerky movements can startle dogs and make them nervous. Try to move naturally and deliberately, especially if you're approaching a dog. If you are too slow-moving you look suspicious. If you are unsure follow the general rule of ignoring the dog, (no eye contact, no talking to and no touching) ignoring a dog is less likely to trigger a fear response and will help the dog feel safer around you.



Hugging:

Humans often express affection by hugging, but many dogs find this gesture uncomfortable. It restricts their movement and can be perceived as a form of restraint and from your dog’s view it is like being mounted. If you want to show affection, petting and cuddling while respecting your dog's personal space is usually a better approach. Your dog may be tolerant or even enjoy hugs but never put your face in an unknown dog’s face or attempt to hug it.

 

Loud or high-pitched voices:

Dogs have sensitive hearing, and loud or high-pitched voices can be distressing to them. It's best to use a calm and soothing tone when communicating with your dog, particularly in unfamiliar or tense situations. A calm voice can help reassure them and reduce anxiety.

 

Ignoring warning signs:

Dogs use subtle body language to communicate their discomfort, such as lip licking, yawning, stretching, and turning their head away. Ignoring these signals and pushing for interaction can escalate their anxiety and lead to a negative experience. Always be attentive to your dog's cues and give them space when needed.


Understanding and respecting your dog's body language is crucial for maintaining a positive and harmonious relationship. By being mindful of the signals you send through your body language, you can create a more comfortable and trusting environment for your canine companion. Remember that every dog is unique, so paying close attention to their individual preferences and needs is essential for their well-being and happiness. Learn more about dog body language here.






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