Talk the Talk: Understanding Canine Body Language for Staff Safety
By The Professional Pet Boarding Certification Council
Learning and understanding canine body language is the foundation of safety in any pet care career. Dogs communicate at all times and it is our responsibility as pet care professionals to learn their language.
Like human communication, canine language includes vocalizations, body postures and facial expressions. Observing and learning to recognize each type of mannerism is important to effective communication between you and the dogs in your care.
Like people, dogs are social animals and their language has developed so they could live together in harmony. Language is the tool dogs use to identify individuals, maintain their social group and reduce competition. Mainly, dogs communicate with each other to avoid conflicts.
Pet care professionals who understand canine body language are more likely to avoid serious injuries and better enjoy their pet care roles. By observing dog postures and communication signals, you will know when it is safe to approach or when it is appropriate to stop and back away. Dogs recognize and appreciate humans who respond effectively to their communication signals.
Pet care facility owners who invest in staff training in canine body language benefit from the following:
- Fewer staff injuries from dog bites
- Minimal work time missed due to dog–inflicted injuries
- Improved worker’s compensation accident records
- Fewer dog–to–dog injuries
- Fewer veterinary reimbursements to clients
- Happier and healthier dogs in your center
- A reputation in the community for good, safe pet care.
Pet care professionals who learn and understand canine body language can be proactive rather than reactive in providing pet care. Dogs can inflict bites much quicker than humans can move in response. A dog’s emotional state is typically indicated by their posture and body language signals. Close observation of signals gives early warning of changes in a dog’s emotional state. Understanding their language provides extra time for humans to stay safe during potentially dangerous dog interactions.
Important basics of how dogs view the world are key to understanding their language. Keep these three points in mind for safe interactions with dogs:
- Experiences are either familiar or something that is unfamiliar to the dog.
- Dogs are very sensitive to movement into the physical space around their bodies.
- Let the dog in your care set the pace for greetings and movements.
When an experience is unfamiliar, the dog is likely to be uncomfortable and display signs of stress. Likewise, when a human or dog moves too close physically, signs of discomfort will be communicated as stress or warning signals. For this reason, it is very important to let the dog tell us when they are ready to greet us or move with us on–leash in the pet care facility.
Additionally, remember that each dog is an individual. Although there are common breed tendencies, the social environment and situations dogs encounter during their lives impact their behaviors and responses to new experiences.
Learning and understanding canine body language is an important foundation of knowledge required to be a pet care professional. When you “speak dog” fluently, you will stay safe during dog interactions and provide better care.