Dog communication demystified at Town Hall talk

Photo by Lisa Williams
Misoo Filan, a Shelburne artist, creates a portrait of a golden retriever. Carol Cherhoniak won a custom dog portrait that Filan will paint as a prize from a drawing from the series of dog-related talks.

By Rosalyn Graham

On a recent weeknight at Town Hall, dog trainer Deb Helfrich shared her expertise in canine communication with a roomful of dog owners eager to better understand their pets.

The presentation aimed at demystifying the topic of communicating with canines was held at the town offices as part of a series of dog-related talks sponsored by the Shelburne Village Dog Park Committee and the Parks and Recreation Department.

Thirty dog lovers gathered last Wednesday to hear Helfrich from Gold Star Dog Training explain how to figure out how dogs are feeling, and how they let their humans know.

Helfrich’s German shepherd, Cora, alternated between napping and walking around the room, making friends, as Helfrich advised her audience to focus on the many body language clues dogs give. Factors such as posture, ear position, tail carriage, stance and eyebrows indicate a dog’s emotional state; though they can’t speak, they communicate using body language.

“Recognizing body language helps with training, since the only way to understand what your dog is ‘thinking’ is by observing him when he’s calm, and noticing the changes when he’s happy, curious, tired, angry, threatened, joyful and more,” Helfrich said.

She noted that there are physical cues to clue people in to how a dog is reacting to a situation. Some examples:

• Stress is exhibited when a relaxed body becomes tense, hackles rise, and maybe a foot is raised.

• A dog’s ears go down when feeling threatened, and go up when curious.

• Tails are relaxed when dogs are calm, and curl higher when exerting dominance; the tail is tucked down when the dog is being disciplined.

• A dog’s eyes are mood indicators, with pupils dilated and a “hard” appearance when the animal is angry or threatened.

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