Effective communication with your Puppy
Puppies have an impressive capacity to learn complex social behavior, to interpret a wide variety of body language and sounds, and also to react and learn from new situations. Dogs are able to sense and deliver a wide variety of behavioural cues using body language. This allows them to engage in social interaction (communication) with other dogs and with humans. Actually dogs probably have to be even more perceptive than humans, because they can't rely on language (either to express themselves or to figure out what others are thinking/ feeling).
Misunderstanding, misreading and misinterpretation and mixed signals are the result of poor communication between humans and canines. Dogs are incapable of speech and unable to vocally express themselves using language.
We need to find a way to effectively communicate with our Rescue Pups by understanding their non-verbal (body) language. Dogs are both very expressive and very intuitive, and are generally very good at reading non-verbal cues from humans. Puppies can tell when you are happy with them and they can let you know that they are pleased, too. This is part of what makes them easy to train and, most importantly, easy to build a strong relationship with.
Different breeds of dogs have different ways of communicating and expressing themselves... apart from genetics or individual temperament, a lot of it comes down to the way they look...some dogs have pointy ears and some have floppy ears, some have stiff tails and others have a gentle curve or even very short tails, some dogs have flat faces and others sharp faces, some are very furry and others are short-haired... Because most of our RP's are mixed breeds (many we haven't the faintest clue as to their DNA and make guesses purely based on their looks) studying breeds or breed characteristics is perhaps* not as relevant for us...
We don't have to be a "dog whisperer" to work with our CLAWbies and understand and communicate with them, we just need to know what to look out for!
As part of the CLAW puppy handling team, we need to be professional and respectful in how we meet and greet and interact with not just our human visitors or clients, but also our canine clients and shelter residents!!!
Here are a whole lot of very useful posters on Meeting and Greeting dogs (especially useful for those CLAW staff and volunteers who are also involved with the township children in the community - those involved in the CLAW educational programme or Outreach Clinics, or those Foster Parents who also have kids!)
Dogs communicate clearly with each other, problems may arise in communicating with humans because we do not understand their signals and communicative cues, and so much is lost in interpretation. Turid Rugaas has provided valuable insight into understanding dogs non-verbal vocabulary. PLEASE download and read this valuable article...
It is vital we are able to communicate and understand the CLAWbies in our care. Dog's growling and bites are a major reason for dogs being sent to (or returned to) shelters and we all know a dog perceived as "aggressive" is most likely to be PTSed (put to sleep). If puppies feel trapped and cannot escape, and no one is heeding their signals of discomfort or growls of warning, they can't push the threat away, or hit them... their only "weapon" becomes their teeth. Generally dog bites are the direct result of communication gone bad NOT a "bad" (or dangerous) dog! If we ignore signals of fear a pup may be left no resort but to growl or nip!
Not only do we need to know this to communicate with our RP's, but also to be advocates for them, and protect them when visitors come (children or potential adopters etc.). We need to be watching our RP's for signals that they are anxious or uncomfortable so that we can mediate!
In addition to large repertoire of facial expression and other body language, dog's communicate through vocalizations like barking, whining, whimpering, or growling. The bark is probably the dog noise we are all most familiar with. Companion dogs bark for many reasons. Your companion might be saying he's hungry, bored, or wants exercise, or he might be trying to tell you that he is home alone, a visitor has arrived, he senses danger, or that he's excited. Barking and other vocalizations are part of the natural way dogs let us know they need something or that something is up (they do not do it to annoy us).
* NB It is important for us to be as truthful and transparent as possible, when sharing any breed and background information to prospective adopters! This not only helps us match a dog to a prospective home, but ensures the home doesn't have any untrue, unfair or unrealistic expectations of the pup. Temperament, energy levels, adult size, physical attributes (e.g. an adopter who has allergies would do better with a poodle or schnauzer than a dog that moults), needs e.g. is it a working breed (needs a 'job" i.e. kept busy with extra training/stimulation. and possible behavioural tendencies (e.g. we don't want to home a Beagle, with the potential to bark in a townhouse complex). We should seriously consider the implications of homing any RP that looks vaguely labrador like as a labbie X simply because a labrador is know as easy-going, playful, friendly, trainable (eager to please) and generally just a great choice as a family-pet... Not only are we being unfair to the prospective adopters, but also to the RP. Rather than trying to market him/her as something (s)he is not, we should be , through puppy training and socialisation, making him/her ALL THAT (S)HE CAN BE... We need to give our RP's every chance to succeed in fulfilling their OWN potential in a loving family home! We also should probably not be adopting two siblings from the same litter (or too similar in age, and especially if they're of the same gender) together into the same home.