Training Tuesday – Communicating with your Dog
Communicating with your Dog: Stop Talking
by Andy Sands, Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant
It’s Not What You Say
Hello once again, Suncoast, and welcome to Training Tuesday. For the last five weeks we have been discussing how to communicate properly with our dogs. In order to have a “meaningful conversation,” with our canine companions, it is important for us to speak their language. Things like body language, hand signals, facial expressions, and tone of voice are very effective ways to communicate with our favorite furry family members.
Now, let’s go back to human language for just a moment, since it’s unlikely we will stop talking to our dogs. Any of you who have been to a reputable dog training class will know that it’s never wise to use a verbal request more than once. Any word used more than once without a response from the dog is an invitation for the dog to ignore you. Repeating a word over and over will simply render the word meaningless.
A good analogy for this would be asking a child to go clean her room. The more you ask, the more the room stays untouched. If instead, you ask once, and link the completion of the task to a consequence, chances are better the room will get cleaned. As an example, next time you ask your dog to “sit,” say the word only once, and wait patiently (15-20 seconds). If he sits, quickly deliver a treat and some praise. If he doesn’t, quickly turn and walk away with a dismissive tone and a “too bad!” or something similar. After a short while try the command again, and you’ll see just how effective using one word can be. Then try using hand signals only – no words at all. You will most likely see your dog paying closer attention to you, and responding with greater precision and frequency.
One final request about verbal commands; please strike the word “no,” and any other word that has been overused from your vocabulary. Dogs hear the word “no” so many times with no real consequence that they have learned to tune that word out. Instead try using an unpleasant sound, like the one used as a buzzer on game shows when a contestant gets the wrong answer. I call this the “universal no” for dogs. They will respond to that sound, and it’s a great way to interrupt an undesirable behavior. For instance, if your dog tries to jump up on you, quickly make the “universal no” sound and back away, along with using the “evil eye.” As soon as your dog is relaxed or assumes a “sit” position, quickly pet her and if you have a treat handy, pop one in her mouth. You have now done a great job of communicating your expectations, as well as reinforcing a behavior that you want to see repeated.
Don’t stop talking to your dog. It’s great therapy to tell your dog how handsome he is, or to tell him about your day. Ask your dog about her day. She may not answer, but who cares. Ponder with your dog why the human world is so messed up, and why you can’t imagine your life without her. But when you have something important to say, stop talking. Use non-verbal communication. Then watch your dog sit up, pay closer attention, and respond. It’s a beautiful thing.