Dogs are bound to push boundaries and try to find out what they can get away with. Not because they are naughty, mean or dominant but because their instinct is to test the environment / other members in their pack. It is basically a question and answer game. I do this, what do you do? The problem is, we are mostly not aware that this game is being played. Based on the outcome of this constant back and forth dogs learn where they stand, what is tolerated and what is not. Sounds simple? It is.
It is very simple for dogs, because this is basically how they learn. I do x, you do y, noted. We learn actually the same way. Our human interactions and relationships get shaped by feedback & response as well. But our psychology and our ego makes things a little more complicated. When we relate to dogs our psychology and ego makes things somewhat murky too. All our assumptions, needs, hurts, fears, projections and so on get in the way of being clear with our dogs. They literally interfere with simple & clear communication. Add to it lots of talking & and bit of drama and you have human communication. We tend to do exactly that with our dogs. But dogs speak dog, not human. Which is why we normally end up with miscommunication.
Let’s say you want to let your dog know that jumping up is not on, but the way you communicate this includes giving lots talking and emotions. Then you unfortunately reinforce what’s happening. Apart from rewarding the behavior and reinforcing the dog’s state of mind, it is also a question of respect. And the most important part of respect is something everyone applies all the time. We do not even think about it. It is called personal space.
Does your dog respect you | Key element personal space
“Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached. Permitting a person to enter personal space and entering somebody else’s personal space are indicators of perception of the relationship between the people.” The key point for me to highlight is that we only let people in our space based on invitation and communication in the moment.
This universal concept is understood by all animals and humans. But we do not apply it with our dogs. The problem lies with us and our misinterpretation and hence miscommunication. This is were self-control and understanding the bigger picture is important.So what does personal space and claiming your personal space entail? Maybe we should look at some dog behaviors which signify intruding into your personal space:
Pawing at you
Sitting on your feet/leaning on your leg
None of these would be initiated if the dog respects you. In order to claim your space you have to show your dog that such behavior is not getting it anywhere. Don’t talk about it, make it happen. Whatever you do, be calm, be relaxed yet firm and do not talk to or look at your dog. To claim your space you can push your dog away using your arms or legs. Do this slow and deliberately. Keep pushing your dog out of your space or blocking it from coming into your space. If this is not enough or your dog gets wound up, get hold of your dog’s collar and walk it a few meters away. Again, do this calmly but firmly without making a fuss. Repeat as necessary and if your dog doesn’t get the point remove your dog from the room, or house altogether. There are other ways of dealing with such behavior but this method is the easiest.
Your aim is for your dog to settle down away from you, then you can invite it into your space. The objective is that your dog only comes into your space on your terms, and on your terms only. You need to claim your space all the time and do so consistently in order to gain your dog’s respect. If your dog is not respecting you it will surely not listen to you or pay attention when it matters. Personal space is the starting ground. Claiming the couch, the door, toys, food, certain areas of the house are all basically an extension of your personal space, respect and boundaries.
So, does your dog respect you?