Friday, 11 November 2011


A dog's sense of hearing and smell is much more acute then ours. For most people our primary form of communication is voice, but dogs rely on body language to consciously communicate much more than humans do.

And while all dogs are sensitive beings - some dogs are even more so - these dogs have heightened sensitivity. Heightened sensitivity (HS) can be an amazing asset if you know how to understand  and enable the best in a dog that is an HS dog - you can read about that here.

Dogs are very sensitive and use their senses (sight, scent sound) more keenly and consciously than people do. Dogs look at a human's face to understand, ask and engage the human.

When we think of something that makes us happy, unhappy, sad, angry, excited, etc. the thought translates to our body. We may tense our shoulders, clench our hand, narrow our eye, purse our mouth, change our breathing, sweating and so on. This is our physical reaction to our own translated to our bodies = body language.

Body language is a form of communication and your dog takes notice - instantaneously…our dogs are often aware of what we feel before we are.

This is just one reason why it is so important to learn to be aware of your own emotional state when you are communicating to and working with your dog. 

You cannot hope to lead your dog in an affective manner if are not aware of what you are projecting. 

You will indeed lead - but not as you hoped to! The instant you get emotional, you either lose your dog audience - meaning they will no longer pay attention to the direction you are attempting to provide or you will influence them to become reactive just as you are! If your dog is barking and you are yelling at it to stop - well guess are a hypocrite. Why? Because you are barking too! Behaviour wise - never ask someone (including a dog) to do what your not prepared to do your self!

Dogs are also very sensitive and aware of physical presence and how dogs and people occupy space

This is how a dog herds other animals and sometimes people too! It is also how a dog clams space. If your dog jumps on visitors and the visitor pulls back - this is an invitation to the dog to move further into the visitors space. If you yield space to the dog it will move into the space you yield. Conversely, if you do not withdraw but instead move into the dog’s space the dog will back away. If you hold a treat in your hand and put your hand up high - the dog will see this as an invitation to move into your space and jump for the treat. If you hold you hand at your side with calm confidence and ‘own’ the treat the dog will not move-in to take the treat unless you offer it to the dog. If you calmly and confidently ‘occupy’ a doorway, a dog will not bolt through in front of you.

So, if you want to better understand and work with your dog...train yourself to be aware of and in control of your emotional state, be aware of your body language and how you occupy space and learn to see when your dog looks at you asking for direction. 

Additional Assistance

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 

Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
  • an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
  • an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
  • an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate; 
  • understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
  • a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
    •  the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
    • behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
  • self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
  • sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
    • to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
  • kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
  • the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
  • understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
  • absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.


  1. Great article!
    Can I ask you a question about our Soft coated Wheaton terrier / Mollie that unloads on strangers in the dog park? If a tall male human sets her off, she obsesses by circling him and barking at him. I yell at her to get her to sit and then take her out of the dog park, but we are not any closer to preventing the problem

  2. I am going to provide you with links below to some articles that will help you a) understand what you are doing wrong, and b) understand what to do instead. These articles also have links embedded in them to other related articles - make sure you red those as well.

    And Read these two articles - the methodology to address the behaviour is the same as that which you require to stop your dog's behaviour.

  3. Hi! I have what may be an unusual question regarding my standard poodle/golden retriever mix. We've been together for 4 months now and he just turned a year old. He's a very clever, big heart on 4 feet who is an absolute joy in every regard except one... on leash walking. Off leash he's marvelous - recall is 100% and immediate. In the house and on leash he's a poster boy for dog whisperers out the door and down the steps but it ends there. He 'stays with' but he's all over the place including up in the air (all fours off the ground). We must be quite the sight with this dog bouncing up and down beside me as we go. Sometimes it's because he sees a butterfly or another dog or a person or a blue jay or... and sometimes just because. I can't help but laugh out loud at times he is just such a happy guy. How does one redirect this sort of joyful enthusiasm without depleting it? Our world would open up so much if I can get him to understand that we could see more of it together if he would only leave the butterfly chasing, etc... to our romps in the bush.

  4. Hi I have a question about our 5 Year old Weimaraner. She has been our focus for the entire 5 years as we have been trying to have a child. We are now about to adopt a 11 month little girl and want to make sure the move goes smoothly. What would you say are the best steps totals to make sure the two can live happily together. Are there zones of the house we should/should not let either of them in. Thanks

    1. If your dog has never shown any signs of aggression towards children, if your dog is not possessive of space, toys, food etc. you have no reason to create 'zones' where the dog is not permitted or the child is not permitted. What you should do is create 'normal'. It is normal for a dog to interact with a child provided that the dog has learned good social skills, has learned that people and space are not owned nor possessed, etc. A dog and child simply require coaching and mentoring from a calm state - bring tension and anxiety into the situation and it is the adult that creates the problem. Red the following articles to get the gist of what I am saying...

      To Introduce Your Baby (toddler, children) To Your Dog
      Do you love and trust your dog...Has he/she ever showed any signs of aggression towards anything? If the answer is no than you have nothing to worry about - you just need some help in understanding dogs a little - which I will provide you with below. Having said that the biggest mistake people make is being nervous, anxious, fearful or expecting/anticipating problems…

      Types of Aggression in Dogs & How to Avoid Creating It
      The most common types of aggressive-reactive behaviour in dogs result from the dog being... a) Insecure, nervous, tense, fear based reactivity; b) Bullying, dominating reactivity. When these psychological conditions noted above are not addressed and resolved a dog may become:
      · Fearful reactive-aggressive, or;
      · Defensive reactive-aggressive, or;
      · Offensive reactive-aggressive…

      Unprovoked Dog Bites, Really?
      First, I believe it is always important to define what is meant by bite. Not for those who are familiar with working with dogs, but more for those who have not had to deal with such things or are new to living with a dog. When we say 'bite', what is meant? Do we mean break the skin & sink teeth in; are we including a nip, leaving no impression in the skin or a tiny mark? I have a pack of ten dogs, and at one time or another they have all done the bite thing (leaving an impression in the skin or a tiny mark). All they needed was to be instructed the right way not to do this and repetition of incident was not an issue...

      Does Your Dog Own You
      A common concern of my client’s is that their dog is guarding/owning them. This is a serious situation that should be addressed and resolved right away. Unwanted guarding or ownership of a person by a dog is a symptom of a much bigger issue – lack of leadership. This occurs when the human has inadvertently relinquished (or never was) the pack leader. Some people may at first, find this type of behaviour cute or be proud their dog’s ‘ownership/guarding’ behaviour. The problem is, if you do not know how to control the behaviour the result can be traumatic for both dog and human. When a dog is being protective of you it is not the same as owning you…

      Does Your Dog Lick you Too Much, Roughly?
      I let my dogs lick my face, as long as…
      A - I have invited them to do so;
      B - They are not in an overly excited state;
      C - They have not been eating anything disgusting;
      D - They lick in a respectful manner and know when to stop!

    2. Your Dog, Your Couch
      I am going to address this topic in three sections… Clients often ask me is it OK if my dogs go on my couch? Will it make them aggressive? The answer is no - but lack of leadership can! Recently, I had a client ask me if his little Yorkie was being dominating as it liked to sit on the back of a couch! He had read an article on the internet that if a dog sits on the back of a coach, the dog is dominating. I love the fact that we can do so much research at the touch of our finger…the only problem is that it magnifies the ability of those who really do not understand dogs to influence others…

      (Your) Dog Owns Your Door and Jumps on Guests
      Well guys, were to start? Training you say, yeap…but not your dog…we start with training you! And you will coach your dog from the position of Pack Leader. So let’s get started. The first thing you need to know is that if you ask your dog the right way your dog will stop jumping on guests. We don’t have to train him for this we just have to communicate with him properly.

      Congratulations on the adoption of your little girl and remember to be kind and fair to your dog - so not set her up for failure. As long as you lead by true example your dog will behave with respect. Dogs do exactly what their people tell them to do - it is just that most people are not aware of what they are really communicating!

      Cheers, Karen


Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats