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My Rescue Dog and Body Language

A year ago, I adopted Dakota. She is a Pomeranian and Husky mix. At the age of three years old, she was surrendered to a local rescue. When I saw her image on the rescue’s site, I knew I needed to adopt her. She was showing your typical signs of stress, lowering her body, wide whale eyes, tail tucked, panting, and ears pinned back. At that time, I was in the animal care field for six years and knew how to read body language. (Figure 1, Above, Dakota showing the following signs of stress: low posture, tail is down, ears are back, mouth is tight, and her paw is lifted.)

The day I went to meet her, she greeted me in a defensive mode. Her hackles were up, her body weight was primarily balanced between her front feet, and she was growling and barking at me. She was scared, and that fear caused her to feel as if she needed to fight. Instead of acknowledging her, I walked beside the staff member who brought her out to meet me. We took a walk down a nice path around the property, and we talked. A few minutes into our walk, Dakota decided to investigate me. I wanted so badly to reach out and pet her, but that was not what she needed. She needed to have that time to investigate me while I ignored her. After a few minutes, she seemed to be okay with my presence. I took over walking her, but the staff member continued walking and talking with me. When we returned to the building, I got down low, and again ignored Dakota, and talked to the staff member. Dakota chose to approach me, and this time she approached me in a more relaxed posture. Her tail was up, her body weight was evenly distributed between all four paws, and her ears were up. I offered my hand, and she melted into it. That was it for us. That was when I knew for a fact that this girl was meant to be mine. (Figure 2, Above, Dakota in defensive position. leaning forward, making herself appear larger, ears forward, mouth open, and growling.

It was clear from the start that Dakota was not properly socialized. She greeted my roommate with snarls and hackles up. Luckily for us, my roommate is used to dogs, and knew to ignore her until she got used to him. Now she might just love him more than she loves me! (Figure 3, Above, Dakota yawning which is another stress sign.)

This past year has been a lot of work for both Dakota and me, but I am so proud of how far she has come. We go on weekly outings to continue her socialization work. I focus on her body language on our outings. If she starts to get stiff or take on a defensive posture, I ask her to focus. Once she focuses on me, she knows to sit, and I will reward her with her favorite treats. If she is showing a lot of stress signs, we cut our outings short. We always want to end on a positive note.

People want to pet Dakota when they see us out and about, and I always take a minute to assess her body language before deciding what to say. If she’s yawning, shaking off, panting, or getting stiff, I ask that they please give her space. If she’s relaxed and sitting at my side with minimal stress signs, I allow people to say hi. It is extremely important to know how your dog is feeling, especially in new or stressful situations. Allowing someone to say hi to Dakota when she is already stressed could lead to her biting out of fear even though she has never bit anyone before. (Figure 4, Above, Dakota, Mal, and Millie are all showing relaxed body language.)

Socializing Dakota with other dogs has been much easier than trying to socialize her with people. She loves other dogs and will play chase all day long if I let her. Her greetings would be labeled what we called yellow in a daycare setting because she greets new dogs with stiff body language. However, she greets her friends with loose and relaxed body language. She does give wonderful corrections to dogs who aren’t the best with their social skills. Corrections may seem rude or harsh to some people, but they are an important part of dog socialization. A dog who does not know how to respect the space of another dog, can learn to respect that space through proper corrections from another dog. Corrections can be small little growls, snarls, and nips, but should never escalate farther than that for the safety of both dogs. If it does seem as if the corrections are getting too harsh, human interference is necessary, but never scold a dog for giving corrections. If a dog cannot give corrections, it may go straight to biting the misbehaving dog. (Figure 5, Above, Dakota displaying the stress signs of tight mouth, ears back, and looking away. The other dog in the image did need human guidance to learn to give her space.)

Dakota is still a work in progress, but then again, so am I. I will continue to watch her body language in order to understand how she’s feeling about situations and to keep her safe. I also use my knowledge on body language to assess and potential friends for her. My goal is to always keep her and any other dogs I meet as safe as possible. (Figure 6, Above, Dakota today. Her weight is balanced between all four paws, her ears are up. and her tail is relaxed in its natural position.)

My name is Haley Galebach. I have been working in the animal field for seven years now. I worked at a rescue, two boarding/daycare facilities, and a grooming facility. Now I own my own grooming business. When I’m not working, I like to volunteer my grooming services for some local rescues to help make their adoptable dogs look their best. I also enjoy paddle boarding, hiking, and fishing. Of course, Dakota joins me for most activities. I enjoy signing up for as many educational courses as I can because I believe we should never stop learning new things. Follow Dakota and all her adventures on Instagram.