Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Distance control is a naturally occurring dog behaviour. It’s perfect communication, and when we let well- balanced dogs do their own thing, they communicate distance control perfectly. If a dog lives in a group of socially excellent dogs, they will manage their distance according to how they feel. There are a few distance-increasing and distance- decreasing acts which they use to say, “just go away”, or “don’t come any closer”, or “let’s play”.
Controlling distance is different for dogs than ourselves because we have words. Nicely social dogs don’t have words, but they do have the equivalent of words, signals. Dog communication is packed with signals and with knowledge and practice, we can learn what they are actually saying, as opposed to what we think they are saying.
A dog who is trying to control a space will show signals of worry. They aim to tell the other dog, person, bike or similar to keep their distance. They might offer cut-off signals too, by glancing away or licking their lips. If the source of their worry ignores them and keeps coming, the dog’s reaction will become more overt. They might growl, bark, stand tall, become tense, and even show their teeth. The dog in this picture is doing all the overt distance control behaviours. They must be quite worried by the thing that’s off camera. If you live with a reactive dog, you might relate to this image.
The beautiful fact about distance controlling behaviours is that if the distance is increased, the behaviour will slow down and stop. While the stress is thought to hang around for much longer, once a dog has successfully increased the distance between him and the “threat”, he no longer needs to show the behaviour. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
If you're interested in learning more take a look at my book Easy Walks With Reactive Dogs.