In any home with a four legged friend space management is an integral part of behavior management. More specifically I'd like to discuss using the space around your dog and yourself as a tool for modifying behavior and encouraging and creating the desired results that YOU want from your dog.
Body blocking is a term I have heard many trainers use when referring to the action of taking conscious control of the space around you in order to maneuver, manipulate or encourage your dog to do one thing or another. Here is an example.
"Wanna go outside?"
After uttering this statement a blur of fur zooms from every end of the house to the door and three fuzzy faces stare intently, not at their person, but at the door. Beloved person that you are, opens the door for those sweet drooling faces and a bum rush of canines fly out the door, one dog catching his hip on the door jam, and the eldest dog being bumped and pushed out of the way. As the loving owner, you cringe at seeing your oldest and arthritic dog becoming a bumper car.
Did you know that more often than any other spot the area around the door to outside is where dog fights could break out? Multi-dog households have an extra responsibility to encourage patience in there dogs and the door is a great example of where to do it. A great way to do this is body blocking, or managing the space around you and your dogs.
Dogs don't push with paws. People have a strong tendency to use our hands and arms to manage situations (after all, we have thumbs!) but dogs use there bodies in a different way. And because of this they respond to our bodies moving in a different way then we would naturally use our bodies to communicate.
Imagine I am at the door with three outdoor bound dogs. All three of which are nearly nose to door. I have the option of reaching over the pack to turn the handle and push the door open, but lets deny that urge and manage this situation. First, pretend your hands are tied behind your back. (Yes, seriously!) Now use your body. Walk yourself between the door and your dogs, then step forward into your dogs space. You may have to lean this way or that, or take steps to the side as your dog is set on getting out that door and doesn't know your plan. So use your feet and move your body to block the space around the door. This should result in your dog moving away from you(and the door). You are claiming the space around you. Step forward towards, almost into , your dog. After you have claimed your space, ask your dog/s to sit. And now it's time to release each dog individually out the door on command......how? That's a whole other dog blog post!
Lets take a step back and talk about your paws. Why aren't we grabbing collars and hauling dogs away from the door? That certainly is an option, but not a good one. Ask yourself who learns from that? And,...Do you want to continue this collar grabbing for the entire life of your dog?
All too often people grabbing collars, becomes a point of fear and defensiveness for some shy dogs. If your human child was deaf, or spoke another language than you, would you grab him by the collar of his shirt anytime you wanted him to move his body? I doubt it.
Also, human paws can become a toy to our pets. Hands crowding around there face, grabbing and pulling, think from your dogs point of view. And, those hands sometimes hold toys and treats. Yum! "Pawing" at your dog is likely to encourage him to play with you.
Here is a great example of that.
I am sitting on the couch watching TV when Comet comes up and nudges my hand. I then push his head away from my body, maybe I also say "leave me alone" and I don't look at him for more than a second or two. I know what Comet will do next, he will nudge again, or might hop onto the
couch with the intention of getting onto my lap. I keep pushing him away and the more I use my paws to push him the more he tries to play, soon he is barking and pawing at me. This frustrating sitation is based on a communication break down. Rough housing, like pushing, is likely an invitation to play to your dog, putting your hands in his face makes your hands into likely chew toys, "leave me alone." is probably not on his list of commands so all he heard was some funny noises coming from your head, (curious! lets investigate! ruff!). Eye contact for a second when I spoke, then I looked away,...looking at your dog can be a form of attention( just what he was looking for!) and looking away, while that is a calming signal among dogs, dogs do look away from each other during play to keep things content between the two. So what has all your efforts to get your dog to leave you alone gotten you? Just the opposite.
Back to body moving, or body blocking.
If you are on the couch and your dog is nudging into your lap, stand up and look away. This is a simple, easy and effective option for communicating that now is not the time. Teaching an "Off" command is handy for getting your dog off of objects you would rather not like fur on and providing an appropriate activity for your active, curious, lovable dog will also help when you are just not in dog mode. After all, whose responsibility is it to manage communication between species in your household? You? or your dog?
Here is a pic. of two of my three dogs out on a hike enjoying a beautiful day.
Bugsy and Comet