BH200: Dog as a Second Language

Instructor: Donna Hill

Course Details

Dogs are constantly communicating with us and each other. They make requests and they tell us when they don't know what is expected of them. They communicate stress in ways that many humans interpret as being 'stubborn', 'blowing us off', or 'being disobedient,' when in fact they are very clear in their communications, telling us early on and in surprising ways... IF you know how to read them. Whether during training, in class, or in the ring, being able to read your dog is a key to building a strong bond!

In this course, we will focus on the fundamental skill of learning to observe dog (mostly stress-related) behaviors and what their function may be in context of where it's happening, with an emphasis on dog sports! This course is mostly a theory course, but you will observe dogs on video and there are real life activities to try with your own dogs as well. We will experiment with the application of some dog behaviors to communicate with your dog(s) to help reduce stress. You'll also find out what other resources are available to help you continue learning dog language after the course is over.

Topics covered:

  • difference between observation and interpretation
  • bias in observation
  • distress vs eustress
  • distance increasing behaviors
  • distance decreasing behaviors
  • displacement behaviors
  • arousal behaviors
  • rude behaviors
  • context and combination behaviors

It is only when you actively practice observing that you will see what your dog and others have to say. One of the top animal trainers in the world, Bob Bailey, maintains that observing critically is one of four foundation skills you need to successfully train dogs. (The other three are timing, criteria and rate of reinforcement).  Ethologists (those who study animals in their natural environment) know that it takes 1000 hours of observation to actually start getting to know your species of interest, and 10,000 hours to be an expert. Just living with your dog does not qualify as most people don't know how to observe in a useful way.

Gold students will need to be able to take footage of dogs (their own or other's dogs in training, in class, at trials or other locations) or find footage on Vimeo and Youtube to post and make detailed observations on the homework forum. Silver students can contribute to forum discussions and Bronze students can read the weekly class materials, view photos and watch posted videos as well as see everything posted by others.

Let's face it, if you are reading this, you are a dog keener (like me) and spend much of your time with your dog(s)! Wouldn't it be great to learn Dog as A Second Language?  After all, they have learned our language. This is the place to get a good start on theirs! Instructor is applying for CEU's.


Next session starts: April 1, 2017
Registration starts: March 22, 2017
Registration ends: April 15, 2017

Registration starts at 9:30am PDT.

Enrollment limits: Gold: 10 students, Silver: 25 students, Bronze: unlimited. If you are interested in bronze level, you can sign up any time during the registration period.


Week 1
passive and active observation
quantitative vs qualitative observation
distress vs eustress
arousal behaviors 

Come up with an observation study topic you want to do on dog behavior (4x15 min sessions- done over a 4 week period). You will be making a brief write up with data, photos and/or video.

I want your topic to be something that interests you personally as the whole point of this project is to get you actually observing dogs communicating with each other and humans. If you want to work with another person and combine data, you can do that as well. It should be a fun process!

Some examples:
1. Video self while training (any sport, trick, task or behavior etc) and experimenting with subtle changes in your own technique and dog's response.
2. Visit a high density dog area such as a trial, dog park, daycare etc and  videotape dogs. Which groups of behaviors are most commonly seen?
3. Videotape you and your dog in different training and trial environments. Analyze video for the types of behaviors seen.
4. Choose a behavior your dog does often and observe the different contexts she uses that behavior in, and what functions the behavior may serve for her. 
5. Choose one of the categories of behaviors studied this term and focus on documenting different dogs using them.
6. Experiment with use of dog signals by humans to see if there is a decrease stress in dogs.
7. Observe a litter of puppies to see when and how they learn to use the various communication signals

Open to other ideas as well. Contact the instructor with your ideas.
Submit observation study plan idea for approval get started.

Week 2 
difference between observation and interpretation
distance increasing behaviors (including agonistic behaviors)

Design and submit behavior observation sheet or journal format for 4 week project.
(Sample is provided). Analyze the provided video for occurrence of distance increasing behaviors.

Week 3
Lecture: bias in observation
displacement behaviors

provide 5 photo or video examples of dogs doing displacement behaviors in any context (from any source: your own, others footage, links on the internet) 

Week 4
context and combination behaviors (physical, emotional, health)
'rude' behaviors

Analyze an emotional video provided.

Week 5
distance decreasing behaviors (appeasement or affiliative behaviors)

provide 5 photo or video examples of dogs doing distance decreasing behaviors (from any source: your own, others footage, links on the internet)

Week 6
practical application of humans using dog language to decrease stress in dogs
resources for further study of dog communication and behavior

Presentation of observation study results on Homework Forum
-brief write up with photo or video examples
Optional sharing of Gold student projects on general forum (to open up for other Gold and Silver students to discuss).

Prerequisites and Equipment

  • digital camera
  • tripod or human helper to film
  • access to dogs on a weekly basis, ideally in training, class or trial settings. Other situations can be used as well such as dog parks, daycare, groomers, dog sitting, veterinary offices, pet events, public events, dog fundraisers etc 
  • Access to a notebook (or larger) size laptop or desktop computer (so you can see the details in the videos). Handheld devices may be too small to see the individual behaviors as well as the whole dog in context.