Colorado State’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital Offers Free Seminar for Dog Owners: Understanding Canine Body Language

If you have problems communicating with your dog, or you just want to better understand the complex, intelligent mind of your best friend, Colorado State is offering a free seminar that may help.

"Understanding Canine Body Language" will be presented by nationally recognized animal behavior expert Dr. Rolan Tripp from 6-8 p.m. on Feb. 8 in Room B213 at the James. L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 300 W. Drake Road, in Fort Collins. The program is free and open to the public. Dogs are not permitted.

Studies have shown that behavior problems or misreading of pet behavior and lack of understanding of proper pet training methods are leading causes of pet relinquishment and death.

"Your dog is communicating with you every moment you are together," Tripp said. "Not learning to understand canine body language is a little like living your whole life with a beloved family member who speaks a different language and never learning to communicate. The enjoyment of living with a dog is increased a hundredfold by learning a little two-way communication."

One example of learning to communicate, Tripp noted, is recognizing when your dog is "gaming" you. Dogs are, by nature, social climbers and constantly looking for ways to improve their position in the pack. By controlling the owner, the dog has increased their status.

"Some dogs do this as a game to see how much they can get away with," Tripp said. "Others are very serious and once they think they own the place, it becomes their job to threaten any pack member who doesn’t follow their will."

Large dogs often like to jump up and stand with their front paws on the owner’s shoulders. Owners interpret this as a loving "hug," but Tripp explains that this is actually a posture of dominance.

"By allowing the paws to be placed and left on their body, the owner is submitting to a more dominant member of the pack and might be setting up a future aggressive confrontation," said Tripp.

A more positive greeting would be for the dog to sit and then have the owner offer a greeting. In this way, the dog has assumed a subordinate posture, the owner retains the leadership position and both share a positive exchange.

One of the more tragic misinterpretations of body language involves the canine "grin," Tripp said. Many dogs, when they are happy and excited, pull their lips back in a happy "grin," called the "submissive grin." They are simply very happy, but some owners have misinterpreted this as a snarl and had the dog euthanized because of what they perceived as aggression.

Tripp is a nationally recognized animal behavior expert and the author of the book, Pet Perception Management. He is an affiliate professor of applied animal behavior at Colorado State University. In addition to a small general veterinary practice in California, Tripp acts as a consultant and on-air personality for the Animal Planet Network. He is currently a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the California Veterinary Medical Association, the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Seating for the seminar is limited. For more information or to make reservations, contact Buffy Wands at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 491-1273.