If Shakespeare had been a dog trainer, he may have poised the question: To Move Into or Move Away; That is the Question? Animals are very much aware of space, probably more so than people. When people want something, they typically will invade another person’s sense of space. This invasion is done to obtain the other person’s complete attention. What they don’t realize is that it often times has detrimental effects.
In response to this confrontational shortening of distance, a person or animal often times will move away to keep their natural sense of space. With humans, this sense of space with strangers is approximately 4-6 feet apart. Depending upon a person’s comfort level or familiarity of a person, this distance may adjust slightly up or down. Other factors may also impact a person’s sense of personal space such as: cultural upbringing, gender, social confidence, etc.
Many times people move into their dog’s space to gain their attention. After-all, this is what they are use to doing with people and animals are subservient to people (so goes the thinking). So the dog should just accept our invasion of their space, right? I don’t believe so. Animals also have a sense of space that they are comfortable maintaining with people and other animals. Try walking into a dog’s space and see what happens. Most dogs will move away to maintain that sense of space. Dependent upon their confidence and prior experience, dogs may also adjust their sense of space up or down than what is commonly seen as the usual distance kept by most dogs.
Now try getting a person’s attention and moving away from them. Usually, what happens is that the person will follow you into your space. For example, imagine if you needed to discuss something of importance with an employee or a loved one. If you move into their space, the person is likely to adjust and move slightly away from you. They view the impending discussion or your approach to be threatening or at least unpleasant.
However, if you were to obtain their attention and move away from them, gesturing for them to come closer, this reduces their tension and apprehension. After all, you have just invited them into your space and they have volunteered to comply with your request. One who complies with the request assumedly has permission to move away if so desired later. So this is a much less threatening place to be even if the personal gap has been shortened. And, they are less likely to move away because you have been inviting and receptive to their approach.
With this technique, you are able to maneuver a person to where you want them to go such as to a quiet area to discuss the important topic. Or let’s say, you felt uncomfortable by a person’s presence but your path to an exterior doorway was blocked. You would have an easier time of maneuvering that person away from the doorway by stepping away and to the side rather than walking into their personal space and being confrontational.
And, so it is similar with dogs. When we obtain their attention and move away from them; they become engaged with us and feel more comfortable to enter our space. Thus, they become more easily maneuverable and manageable. This “dance” of us leading them into our personal space makes it comfortable for them to interact with us and helps build the trusting relationship that we desire to have with our dog.
So if Shakespeare had been a dog trainer, I would’ve answered him by saying; move away and draw them in for a dance to last a lifetime.