Posted Date: March 15, 2016
A recent research study in Japan looked at a dog's body language as indicators of learning during training sessions.
When you're training your dog, are you aware of his or her
body language? Researchers found that their body language may in fact signal to
you that they are learning what you are attempting to teach them.
Masahi Hasegawa, Nobuyo Ohtani and Mitsuaki Ohta of the Azabu
University School of Veterinary Medicine in Japan published an article in 2014
regarding their study of canine body language and learning. Their project
looked at how a dogs' posture, facial expressions and overall body language changed
during an operant conditioning-based program.
The study involved 46 dogs with no prior training from a mix
of breeds, which was confirmed by giving them a verbal and hand cue to sit
which the dogs did not understand. 17 were male and 26 were female and all were
between 12 months and six years of age. The handler engaged each dog in
five-minute training sessions teaching the sit behavior using food rewards.
Each session was followed by three minutes of rest. This was then followed by
20 minutes testing the dogs' responses to hand cues. These tests were conducted over three days
and nine time per dog. During each 20-minute test, the researchers recorded the
behavior of the dogs by looking at their eyes, mouth, ears, and tail.
The researchers found that there was a strong correlation between
the number of times a training event occurred and the dogs' success on the
test, which would follow suit with what we all know about teaching our dogs
through repetition and practice.
Regarding the dogs' body language, the researchers found
that those that performed the best on the tests displayed wide eyes, forward
ears, closed mouths and a tail held high without wagging. The forward ear position
was seen as combined with focused attention on the handler and the researchers
felt that the sustained forward motion of the ears indicated a dog that was
attentive to the handler, as well as wide eyes focused on the handler's face. The
length of time the tail was held straight and up was correlated with the dogs'
correctly completely the tests with a high degree of accuracy. If the dogs'
tails were not wagging, or if the dogs displayed a short and fast wagging
motion, this was predictive of the dogs getting a high score on the tests. They
did note though that further study on tail motion involving multiple breeds is
recommended since there is a variety of tail length and shapes among breeds and
some dogs cannot hold their tail straight up. Therefore, it is not clear from
the study if tail position and movement is strongly correlated with learning.
They also were unsure about the correlation with the closed mouth, as
eventually the majority of dogs began to pant during the tests, which could be
related to stress or other environmental reasons.
While the results of their study may not be a surprise to
people who regularly work and train dogs, it's useful to note that they found
correlations with these behaviors across many breeds. So in the future when
working with your dogs, take a moment to observe their body language,
particularly when they get the "aha" moment and understand a behavior you're
teaching and see if you see the same results the researchers did!
Source: Hasegawa M, Ohtani N, Ohta M. (2014). Dogs' body
language relevant to learning achievement. Animals,