Dogs don’t speak English (or any other human language)
Studies at the University of Arizona have found that humans speak on average, over 16,000 words in a single day. It’s understandable that dogs are simply overwhelmed by the cacophony of sound coming from our mouths every day. Perhaps this is why so many owners tell me their dog has 'selective hearing' or 'deaf ears'.
The Silent Treatment
I urge you to take a moment and to just sit with your dog without saying a word. I can assure you that you are still communicating with your dog but in a very different way, through body language. Are you relaxed, excited, frustrated or angry? Is your dog’s demeanor influenced or can you influence it, by your mood? In future, keep in mind what your body language says when you speak to your dog, as it can have a profound effect on the response.
Your wish is my command
Telling a dog what to do by saying a command word, when it has no clue what that is, must be very frustrating to a dog. Just because you say a word like 'stay' doesn't mean it miraculously understands what it is you are asking it to do. Imagine walking into a room with no clue what is expected of you, the only way of knowing you’ve done the right thing is someone saying “Good Dog”.
For example, I see people say the ‘stay command’ over and over again and then get upset with the dog when it breaks the stay. There's several reasons for this;
- The dog has not been shown repeatedly what the owner wants it to do successfully, before applying a command word to the action
- The expectation on time and distance is too much too soon, small milestones with big rewards makes for more consistent results.
- The owner may be inadvertently teaching their dog 'learnt disobedience', so instead of repeatedly teaching the correct action they are teaching the wrong action.
- The dog, in it's moment of confusion, seeks the owners help and reassurance by moving towards them and is then commonly reprimanded
- I guarantee the body language from the owner is probably all wrong; ask yourself, are you smiling because your dog is correctly staying in position or are you serious and assertive?
How can you communicate more positively with your dog?
It's simple, become aware of what your body language is portraying. Use attention and affection as your primary reward (within 2 seconds of the desired behaviour) and most importantly, always show your dog what it is you want them to do by guiding them step-by-step through the process first before using a command signal or word. This ensures they understand every actionable element of the 'command'. Only then can you apply a ‘word command’. Less is truly more!