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The dog and its spaces: a vital issue

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The dog and its spaces: a vital issue

For our friend, the space around him constitutes something fundamental, a set of “zones” to be occupied and lived in the most functional way possible.

For “space“We mean, in fact, the place where the dog is located as well as the area in which he can feel safe, and finally all those areas that he will travel throughout his existence.

In such “spatial” circumstances, each individual activates different behaviors or, to be precise, all the behaviors he deems appropriate to express.

In return, the dog understands that there are other spaces in turn occupied by subjects of the same and different species, and in this alternation of more or less delimited areas there will be an obligation to bring the utmost respect for the counterpart.

Knowing how our friend perceives, and lives, their own spaces and that of others will help us, therefore, to understand the answers, guaranteeing the right attention towards him. This is also for the purpose of preventing dangerous communication misunderstandings.

As we can easily understand by thinking for example of our “personal spaces”, in fact, it is a really vital question. Knowing, respecting and enforcing the dog’s “spatial” needs is fundamental for a peaceful coexistence between him and the rest of the world.

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1. As concentric circles with the dog in the center


If we decide to draw our dog into the world around him, we should first place him in the center of a white sheet, a dot that, in that specific environment, will determine a series of circles with progressive enlargement and with variable meaning. In technical terms, we speak of “Proxemic bubbles”, identifiable in distances from the different value. Here they are.

– Public distanceto: starting from the outermost area, we will observe the “public distance”, ie the area within which “stimuli” of different types may appear, emerge and remain. The presence of these stimuli will not in itself determine any particular reaction, since the dog considers what he sees as a normal flow of events.

– Social distance: reducing the size, we will find ourselves in the “social distance”, as a result of which our dog will be able to interface with other completely unknown individuals. If these “non-protagonist” actors keep their positioning unchanged, the extent of any interaction will not be subject to emotional stress and everything will flow smoothly.

– Personal distance: further reducing the distance from the dog, we enter the “personal bubble”, on average below one and a half meters: Here specific answers may emerge, whether it is to want to move away, to want to drive away, to remain motionless or … to pretend to not exist.

– Intimate distance: the reactions may be exacerbated if the last piece of space is broken, resulting in direct contact between the dog himself and the other party, another dog, a person or another living being.
Here, in fact, every imaginary border has been violated and it is easy to understand how such an opportunity is often allowed only to known subjects, such as family members and those who, in various capacities, will have achieved significant communicative confidence.
But it is equally true that the dog can also decide to positively accept the entry of a stranger into his “intimate bubble”: this is how the broader social interaction skills of our friends are expressed.

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With respect to the concentric widening distances, the “bubbles” mentioned above, the specific studies have also allowed to produce a further classification; in fact, we will talk about “fixed” distances and of “Variable spaces”, depending on whether they refer to all living subjects, or they become different in relation to the individual.

The former concern the “public” and “social” spaces, while the latter relate to the “personal” and “intimate” areas. Again, a comparison with our “feeling” in this sense helps us to understand easily what we are talking about.

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2. The importance of respect


The deeper we go into our friend’s private and intimate spaces, the more delicate the interaction we will have with him.

In fact, the dog will apply the categorization between “known” and “unknown” to the maximum power, on the basis of the experiences and experiences acquired up to that moment.

The lower the confidence with the interlocutor, the greater the caution on the part of the latter, especially if the final intention is to get in touch.

Remember, in fact, that for each dog there will be different types of “humans”; unknown totals, occasional acquaintances, real acquaintances and, if it is not a stray, the members of the “family pack”.

Well, the former should always remain, at least at the beginning, outside the “personal bubble”, occupying a social space that will allow greater tranquility.

The people with whom there have been occasional meetings in fairly recent times will be entitled to transit in personal space, but with the foresight not to exceed in exaggerated attempts to contact.

Only “friends” and family members will have the privilege of entering directly into the intimacy of our friend, caressing him, touching him or even offering direct connection games.

The definition of the spaces will also be correlated to the modalities of knowledge of those who until then were considered perfect strangers. Unlike “human” conventions, where the first meeting between people involves mutual rapprochement, the dog prefers by far to exercise the “faculty of choice”.

In fact, our friend expects the new acquaintance to put himself at the limits of his personal distance, so as to decide whether to move towards him breaking the minimum allowed threshold.

Only then will the “presentation” procedures be activated, the equivalent of our handshake, consisting of smelling the interlocutor, touching his palm and, in the event of maximum acceptance, not always accessible, in wanting to be caressed by him . In this case, it will be ideal to touch the area of ​​the chin, neck and chest, avoiding to immediately stretch the hand on the head and on the back.

Even the posture will become fundamental: lowering on the knees, to impose less, show the side and direct the gaze away from that of the dog are the most appreciated and educated choices, in a canine perspective.

Still in this perspective, we will let the dog move away once the interaction is over, as if it were a move to “elastic” with respect to having become us temporary “mannequins”.

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3. Private ownership


Still with regard to dog spaces, a central role belongs to the so-called “living space”, that area commonly called “territory“.

Studies on the topic have allowed us to find a common denominator relating to almost all the animal world, including our species, for which the existence of a “safe” and “under control” place is synonymous with survival.

In fact, only by having an area considered impassable can the fulfillment of all survival-oriented behaviors be guaranteed: hunting, resting, courting, mating, giving birth, taking care of the offspring and so on.

In nature, the ownership of a territorial area is the fundamental passport for every male who is courting the female: in the absence of a territory, the latter will not be able to accept the “advances” of the suitors, because they are aware that the children generated could not find adequate protection.

For our species, the concept has obviously focused on the home and, not surprisingly, every violation of the same is lived in a traumatic way and defending it, even by force, is an instinctive behavior.

The concept of the “territory”, ancestral as it is indispensable, is well present in the genes of our friend: the domestic dog identifies its territorial area in the home and in the possible adjacent garden.

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It is a circular area, at least in his mind, where the dog can take advantage of specific resources: food, useful spaces of various kinds, contact with family members and so on.

Therefore, we should not be surprised that such a context full of favorable elements is sometimes defended even at any cost, even more than what would be desired for the coveted sexual partner.

Perceived the presence of a possible intruder, our friend will emit a series of barks in sequence aimed at removing the victim as soon as possible, even if he is only approaching the territory.

If the bark has the desired effect, the dog will tell himself that he has succeeded in this aim, guaranteeing the same alert response in future situations. Precisely because of the delicacy of the task, the awareness of the territorial space emerges following the sexual maturity, almost all of a sudden our friend realized that he had grown up.

His “spatial” intelligence will further increase and the adolescent hormones will allow to “mark” the territorial boundaries in a very precise way, especially through urine.

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4. Even outside


The dog does not just defend his permanent territory but can also adopt the same behavior externally, to protect what he considers of sufficient interest.

Thus, the “Sub territory” par excellence will become the car, as a means not only of transportation but also of containing a series of “resources”, among which … ourselves.

It is not uncommon to witness deterrent barks at people who are very close to the vehicle when the car is stationary, an attitude very similar to what our friend normally does at home, aimed at preventing an intruder from becoming a threat to that confined space.

Another particular attention may be paid to objects that the dog has close to him and that he believes to be his property. It is, in this case, the so-called “personal possession area,” an imaginary triangle with the vertex at the height of the chin and the base more or less on the ground.

A toy, a piece of wood, a particularly tasty food, etc. can be placed inside this area. Often no one, including members of the family pack, can approach that object, all the more so with the intention of stealing it.

It is not strange, on the contrary: studies on herd dynamics, with reference to wolves, have shown that even the last of the wingmen defends their “object of interest”, if they want, and that even the highest-ranking subjects respect this absolute right. In analogy to its ancestor, even the dog will maintain the same right, since it is an “hyper personal” area not to be violated.

In these situations, if the intent was to appropriate what is between the legs, an “exchange” will have to be made, releasing something whose value will be equal to or greater than the “good” to be subtracted (photo below).

In doing so, through a sort of “silent pact”, our friend will not suffer any loss, making himself collaborative in any subsequent similar situations. Finally, returning to the home, there may be other “areas” of specific interest, for example the famous “doghouse”.

Whether it’s a large pillow, a mat or a portable pet carrier, this space will be dedicated to relaxation, rest and sleep. Our friend will therefore have placed a sort of “imaginary circle” around this place and the best way to respect it will be to call it back to us, rather than invading the area.

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5. From dog to dog


What has been written so far is valid at a general level but, as always, remember that “Each dog is a world in itself”, that is, a unique and unrepeatable individual.

That’s why not all dogs will manifest the same definition of spaces, especially referring to the different distances.

There will be subjects with a very wide “social” and “personal” distance, while for others they will be reduced to a minimum. These differences depend on several factors, such as characteristics
individual experiences, experiences and breed peculiarities.

From the first point of view, each dog will be more diffident, fearful, social or indifferent in itself, and these elements will concern his own personality. The past will also matter, especially the first few months of life, when every daily event takes on the greatest categorical importance.

In fact, if the contacts with strangers have been pleasant, there will be a greater predisposition to the desire to interact, while if there have been inconveniences, the reaction may be rejecting the potential “danger” or avoiding it.

Returning for a moment to the developmental stages of the dog, remember that awareness of the concept of “space” will reach its maximum level with the advent of puberty, due to the chemical-cerebral and hormonal changes that occur in the body.

All of a sudden, the previously reduced distances can be increased, reaching even very large amplitudes. But over time and on the basis of experience, these distances may then return to less extreme levels.

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As for the so-called “Race memory”, that is, that range of behaviors selected over the decades and sometimes centuries, there are strains that have inherent the task of maintaining a certain spatial delimitation between themselves and the world, for example the shepherds defending the herds and, albeit in a way different, those conducting the flocks.

The former tend to establish distances in static conditions, while the latter pursue the goal with circular movements. On the contrary, the breeds devoted to the active protection of the home will have a strong predisposition in their genes to do so, as if it were a large “den” to be defended at any cost.

On the other hand, hunting breeds, in particular those for “search” and “carry over”, will be able to reduce their “proxemic” circles to a minimum, proving an evident pleasure also in direct contact with strangers.

Faced with these differences in approach to spaces, it is we bipeds who have to move correctly based on the dog in front of us. However, this implies skills that are still not so widespread in the world of pet dog lovers.

Like many of our friend’s “spontaneous” behaviors, the definition of spaces and the reaction to their violation can also be modified through specific techniques that include desensitization and counter-conditioning, the two basic strategies for any intervention of this nature.

In fact, we will have to replace the reactions of aggression or flight with behaviors of voluntary and serene interaction or, at least, of balanced indifference.

Success rates will depend on the age of the individual, the predisposition of “race” and the repetitiveness of the previous actions deemed “inadequate”, as well as the full collaboration of the owners.

And it is often here that the greatest objective difficulties are encountered, because the commitment and attention required are not for everyone or, equally often, the motivation to solve the problem is not so founded.

In any case, the support of experts in the sector, with adequate specific preparation, will be crucial for achieving the desired objectives. Taking into account that it will take time.

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