You’re just settling down to supper when you remember you need to grab something from the other room. As you return, there’s your Best Friend, licking his chops, your filet nowhere to be seen! “What have you done?! Why did you think you could eat my steak while I stepped out?!” Guess what, your dog doesn’t care, nor can he understand your conversation. Here’s some tips to effectively communicate with your dog.
I am not a dog trainer, nor do I profess to have the answers to dog communication. This is merely for entertainment and educational purposes, along with strategies that have worked for my dogs and me.
1. Keep it Short
Do you have full conversations with your dog? I know I’m guilty. Your dog may act like he understands your ramblings, but he doesn’t. The first key to effectively communicate with your dog is to keep your commands short. “Sit, come, stay, place, leave it, and out” are all one to two word commands you can teach and reinforce in your dog. You’ll have a much greater chance of success for both of you if you keep those commands short.
Additionally, you want to keep any other conversations or back and forth with other people to a minimum. All that noise is confusing to your dog and changes your energy and body language, which your dog can read. When learning new commands, only practice with your dog.
2. Keep Your Commands in the Form of a Command, Not a Question
So many times I hear people ask their dogs questions, as if the dog knows the answer. Your dog does not know the answer. It may sound like you raising the pitch of your voice at the end of the command. Again, to effectively communicate with your dog, keep those one-two words as commands and don’t ask them in the form of a question. Be firm and direct. You won’t hurt your dog’s feelings, but you will communicate clearly.
3. Give Cue Commands One Time
A cue command like “Come” should only be given once. If you say the cue over and over, your dog will get the message that he can tune out and doesn’t need to pay attention to you.
For example, if you’re working on “come” and your dog doesn’t come, walk yourself over to him to correct the behavior. Say the word to him, and direct him to where you want him to go. Of course, to effectively communicate with your dog you have to teach him the command first.
4. Reinforce Good Behaviors
To effectively communicate with your dog and teach him cues, reinforce good behaviors. That means using positive reinforcement like training treats and praise when your dog complies. In teaching the cue word, have some training treats or kibble ready, say the cue, and reward when your dog follows the cue. Repeat this procedure over and over until your dog knows the cue without the treat and can perform the action for praise. This is kind of like teaching new tricks, only with cues instead of actions.
5. Remember Not to Punish Bad Behaviors
Additionally, you want to catch bad actions and stop them, but not yell or punish your dog when you catch these behaviors. That old standby of rubbing your dog’s nose in the pee spot is outdated, cruel and only teaches your dog that you’re unpredictable and tough to trust.
A better way to effectively communicate with your dog when she does something undesirable is to (hopefully) catch her in the act and use a positive behavior interruptor like a silly word or treat to distract them from the act. Positive behavior interruptors are not the word “NO” or your dog’s name, which will likely lead you to be agitated and angry, therefore not helping your dog.
Another way to effectively communicate with your dog when she’s displaying undesirable behaviors like jumping, whining, or begging is to turn away and ignore the behavior. Obviously, this doesn’t work with all undesirable behaviors as there are some behaviors you want to stop in their tracks.
6. Use a Hand Signal or Body Signal
Dogs are really good at reading body language and energy. Often, non-verbal communication is the best way to effectively communicate with your dog. One signal that many dogs pick up on quickly is the open hand signal. This is the sign taught to many puppies for “sit”. Open up your hand and say, “sit”. Again, practicing this over and over with treats and positive praise will reinforce it and help make this signal habit.
Also, by teaching your dog different hand signals, you help them commuincate during times when they may not be able to hear you, like in a loud, crowded area. When you think about it, a dog uses their entire body to communicate. Teaching non-verbal cues can be a lifesaver and strengthen your bond.
7. Teach Your Dog Release Words
Release words signal to your dog that a certain activity is over. Want your dog to finish play time? “All Done”. How about to signal that your dog should leave the room when you’re eating? “Out”.
Some common release words:
- All done
Again, to effectively communicate with your dog, you need to teach and reinforce these words over and over. Teaching a short, easy to use release word is a great training tool for young dogs and can work as a brain refresher for senior dogs. Bonus: a senior dog likely already knows many of these commands.
Practice that Communication Today!
Your dog is a smart creature and wants nothing more than to please you! To effectively communicate with your dog remember that he reads your body language and your energy; if possible try to make sure you’re calm, focused, and ready to only work with your dog during training sessions.
Having strong communication strategies and teaching your dog good listening skills will prove invaluable in any emergency situation and reinforce the already strong bond you share with him. Also, who doesn’t desire a canine of the year in their very own home!