By Jeff Stallings
While dogs don’t use language in the sense that we normally use the term, pretty much all they do is communicate. Their “words” are formed by rumps, heads, ears, legs and tails, and they know how to translate this language intuitively. For dogs, posture can announce aggressive intent or shrinking modesty. If you learn how to read even just the basics of this language, you have a head start on behavior modification.
Similarly, dogs have evolved along with humans for hundreds of thousands of years and in the process have learned how to instantly read our intentions, emotions and vocal patterns. For instance, a dog knows whether you’re making a statement or asking a question based on the cadence of your voice. And dogs will follow your gaze by looking at your eyes and will turn his eyes to the direction of your pointing finger, skills wolves do not possess and cannot learn.
Coupled with your dog’s inherent pack nature (which contrary to the positive reinforcement purists has not dissipated but is in fact fundamental to your dog’s social connection to YOU), this highly-developed ability to read your intent and emotional state presents the fastest and most reliable route to your dog’s better nature.
It boils down to this: When you decipher a dog’s most basic body language and make corrections before he reacts inappropriately—and then clearly express the desired behavior in terms he can easily comprehend—you put in place the building blocks of a deep and sustained relationship with your dog, one in which you, the calm assertive human, make decisions and he, the dog, happily relinquishes any desire to do so.