Much ado has been made about reading your dog! Advice is often followed by the disclaimer, ďÖ but you have to read your dog.Ē Well, what does that mean in real life, in practical terms, in application. Why is it important? When is it important? What if I donít do it? How do I know if I am reading my dog properly? Whatís the downside if I donít read my dog properly? What's the upside if I do read my dog properly? If I'm not doing it (or not doing it right), how can I learn how to do it right?
Novels could be written on this subject. For many new or inexperienced handlers it is the leading cause of failing to make progress with their dogs.
What does Reading the dog mean?
Well each dog gives off a wide variety of physical signals. These include things like posture, facial expression, ear carriage, tail carriage, muscle tension, muscle relaxation, attitude, etc. and various combinations of each. The handlers job is to learn these signals and their multiple combinations and how various factors or stimulous affect them. What makes things more complicated is dogs are individuals and a lot of this is unique to each dog.
The value in reading your dog accurately is it allows you to make adjustments, at the correct time, to help the dog be successful, or to realize that you're dog isn't quite getting a concept and you need to back up and plug some holes in your training.
Where do you learn your dogs signals? Well most of us learn them performing various drills with the dog. Drills seem like drudgery, but performing those mundane tasks is where you learn the more subtle aspects of your dogs behavior and the dog learns yours. They help you to understand when your dog is uncertain about a concept, when it's kind of got a concept, or when it's highly confident that it will nail the concept perfectly. Posture, position, expression, attitude are all important signals your dog radiates.
If you don't read these signals, or mis-read them, you stand a good chance of causing confusion or trust issues with the dog. This can stall progress and create the appearance of inconsistency in the dogs eyes.
Being consistent is critical in dog training. The rules have to be the same all the time for the dog to learn and be successful. A handler that isn't consistent is being very unfair to the dog.