Many people know that for companion dogs to understand what we want from them, it is important to communicate differently than we do with one another. Our language, using many words together in full sentences, is not clear or discernible to dogs. We can help dogs learn certain words or commands by making those words meaningful, but simply talking to dogs and expecting them to understand is asking way too much of them. So, how do we learn to “talk dog“ to our best buddies so we can better communicate our needs? To be honest, it’s not that difficult.
Body Language, Facial Expressions and Tone
The old saying, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it” is a really good thing to keep in mind when attempting to communicate with your dog. Dogs are not complex thinkers and simply see the world in terms of “what’s good” and “what’s bad”. A high voice is good, so when the dog does something you like, tell them “great job” in a high pitched, happy sounding voice with a smile on your face.
Conversely, when the dog does something naughty like counter surfing, or jumping up on you or someone else, simply say “OFF” in a very deep voice with a grimace on your face to communicate clearly that he or she has behaved badly. It is important to note here that the dog’s attention span is very short and can work to your advantage. So, if the unwanted “jump” can be followed quickly with a “sit” command, you may replace the wrong behavior with the right one. To seal the deal, reinforce the correct behavior by popping a treat in the dog’s mouth and change your tone to a happy and high pitched one. Dogs also respond best when we are dramatic, so it is extremely important to pull out the stops and be very expressive about your “likes and dislikes” with respect to their behavior.
By rewarding or reinforcing the right behavior at the right time using the proper tone, body language and facial expressions, you and your dog will start to learn the same language and you will be amazed by the transitions the dog can make once you no longer have a failure to communicate.