An influential dog controls other dogs’ movements by managing the space around them. She puts her body in front of another dog, blocking the way that she does not want him to go, and leaving access to the way that she does want him to go. If she uses her body to control the space but the dog keeps coming, a confident dog will hold her ground. It’s not that she is attempting to collide with the dog, but she is committed to controlling that space. Some dogs go so far as to actually shove their bodies into another dog, and these moves are called “hip slams” and “shoulder slams” in the scientific literature. While I would never recommend that people actually slam into their dogs, these space management maneuvers can be adapted from dogs to humans and become part of anyone’s training techniques. With a few adjustments to allow for human anatomy (especially that two-legged thing) dogs’ blocking motions can all be translated into a suite of behaviors that can be used to control dogs by managing the space around them.
These space management maneuvers are called “body blocks” and they can be used in many contexts. Using body blocks effectively requires attending both to one’s body’s position in space and its movements. The following descriptions of exactly how to block in specific contexts will help give a clear visual picture of what to do and how to do it.
Say a dog has been put in a stay, and he starts to get up and investigate a treat that dropped on the floor. If he moves forward toward the trainer and to her left, the trainer can counter him with her own forward motion, stepping forward and sideways just one step into the space that he was about to occupy. If he does pause, then the trainer should respond by leaning backward, taking the pressure off the dog, but remain ready to move again if the dog initiates another break. Some sensitive dogs will stop and back up if the trainer so much as leans toward them. Other dogs are oblivious to a mere lean, and require much more movement by the trainer in order to concede the space. For any dog, the sooner the trainer reacts, the better.
Body blocks can be used to keep uninvited dogs from jumping into the lap or onto the chest of anyone who is seated, as some overly friendly dogs like to do. The person who is sitting down must use the body rather than the hands (which may cause dogs to think he or she is playing) and push the dog away with the body, just like dogs do. Long before the dog gets there, tucking the hands across the torso, and leaning forward to block the dog with the shoulder, hip, or elbow can prevent the assault. It’s best to sit right back up after the dog has moved backward. Most dogs won’t give up the first time, so these body blocks may have to be repeated several times in order to have an effect.
Body blocks can take a variety of forms: leaning while standing or seated, shuffling toward the dog, goalie-like guarding behavior which often involves side-to-side movements, and stepping across the dog’s path. The commonality of all these movements is that they allow people to control their dogs’ movement and behavior by managing the space around him. Body blocks can be used anytime, anywhere, since the only required equipment is the body. Besides being available always, using body blocks prevents having dogs who only respond when both the human and the dog are attached to a leash. Dogs respond well to body blocks, presumably because this space management is so natural to them.
---Karen B. London