We were at a Home Dog Training client last week in Johns Creek working with her and her Catahoula named Smokey. This was not our client’s first dog, but it was her first “big dog”. All her other dogs were under fifteen pounds and she just didn’t know how to deal with a “big one”. We spent a good amount of time explaining to her that the size of the dog doesn’t matter. Except for the fast that when a large dog jumps on you, he might push you over, the method of dealing with a big dog or small dog follow a similar process. She quickly understood and Smokey began to listen and obey her. She was very happy with the results and was excited to practice what she learned. As we were finishing up, we emphasized the concept of proper communication with Smokey. This is one of the key factors for success in training Smokey and one that we emphasize with every client. We reviewed…
Many dog owners look at their dog and say “Sit” over and over again assuming that their dog is going to put their rear end on the ground. If their dog doesn’t sit, they simply say it over and over again getting louder and louder. They may even start to wave their hands thinking that will make a difference. Or, they may yell “No” when they want their dog to stop doing something. Almost all of the time, their dog does not respond to what the client is saying. They often continue to do the “bad thing” or even escalate what they are doing. The bottom line that I am positive all of our astute readers clearly recognize is that communicating with our dog isn’t the same as talking with our (human) friends, family members, co-workers, etc.
Let’s first think about ourselves. We have words, languages, punctuation, synonyms, antonyms, abbreviations, and all those other things we “learned” in English class and writing class. We can describe the same item or action in a whole lot of ways that we all understand and accept. Over 80% of how we communicate is through this verbal communication.
After “pure talking”, we may use our body language to emphasize our communication. If someone isn’t listening to us, we may stand up for emphasis or wave our hands to get their attention. Again, we do this because they aren’t “listening to what we are saying”. Sometimes we may tap them on the shoulder to get their attention so that they can listen to what we are saying. Through all of thes, the most important factor in our communication is the “verbal talking”.
Let’s turn to our dog. He uses the same types of communication as we. He will bark, which is his form of verbal communication. he may jump, which is his form of body language and the equivalent of our standing to get a person’s attention. He may even give us a little nibble which is his version of our tapping someone on the shoulder. If both we and our dogs use the same methods of communication, why doesn’t my dog know what I am saying?
The answer is simple…
We focus on verbal language as our main form of communication. As I mentioned earlier, 80% of our communication centers around “talking to someone”. Our dog focuses on body language (jumping, stance, posture, etc.) as their predominant form of communication. Over 80% of they way that they communicate is through body language. Body language is only about 15% of our communication process and subservient to verbal communication. Because of this, we don’t pay much attention to body language.
In the same respect, verbal communication is only about ten to fifteen percent of our dog’s communication process. They pay very little attention to that as opposed to body language. So, when we are trying to communicate to our dog through verbal communication while paying very little or no attention to what our body language may be communicating, it comes across as “pure gibberish” to our dog. What can we do?
In order to properly communicate with our dog, we need to use our body language as our main form of communication. We must stand tall and be calm. Remember that teacher you respected and you always obeyed? Think of them. They were calm and always in control. Before they even said a word, they already had your focus and respect.
Sometimes pure body language just isn’t enough. You need to ramp it up to your dog’s next level of emphasis in the communication process. You will have to verbalize with him. Remember that this was our main form of communication where it is his second level of communication. Here comes “the rub”. Our dog does not have a verbal language of words. He has a verbal language of sounds. So, what’s the difference?
Our “words” can form sentences to form complex thought and direction. Our words can mean multiple things, depending on how they are used. We can have different words mean the same thing when we speak in different languages. Our dogs don’t follow this process. Their language is sounds. This may be a growl, whimper, howl, etc. Each of their sounds always mean the same thing.
When we verbally communicate with our dog, we must verbalize a sound that uniquely means one thing and one thing only. Whenever our dog hears that sound, only one thing will ever occur. There is a unique, linear transfer between sound to action. This can never change.
Putting verbalization into practice with our dog, we can’t tell him “No” when he is misbehaving. He hears “No” all day long and multiple things occur after he hears that sound. You need to create a unique correction. Many people use “shhhhht” or “eh-eh” to verbalize to their dog that something is wrong. These are unique sounds that your dog will only hear when he is being corrected. You are fulfilling the “I hear this unique sound and only one thing will happen next” rule.
Give your commands such as “Come”, “Sit”, or “Stay” using a calm voice. This will assure that the “sounds” of “Come”, “Sit”, or “Stay” always are consistent and clear for your dog.
So, let’s review what we have learned so far…
- Always stand tall and calm when communicating to your dog. This tells him that you are the one in charge.
- Correct him with a sound he will only hear when he is doing something wrong. He will never hear this sound for any other reason.
- Calmly verbalize your commands so that he will understand the unique sound and react in a consistent manner.
There are other parts to canine communication that we have not mentioned so far. Although they are also important, they are no where as important as the ones we have mentioned. Follow what we have discussed and you will be a long way down the path of properly talking with your dog.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.