I got to thinking this morning about how, like clockwork, any dog that lives with me (boarding and training in Miami, Florida) for more than few days starts to become very, very responsive whenever I call it. I’m a strong believer through experience that its because:
*I don’t talk to dogs just to talk to them
Dogs are non verbal creatures (duh). Yet, we share our lives and homes with them for companionship and often times develop verbal relationships with them. You might tell them about your day, ask how their day was, ask if they want to play and tell them how cute are they are, etc. Some trainers refer to this human behavior as “verbal overload” when it comes to interacting with dogs. Do dogs like the sound of our voice? Absolutely! But can the sound of our voice become almost meaningless because the dogs can’t decipher when we’re just making conversation versus giving instructions? Sadly, yes. It’s important that if you want to have clear communication with your dog that you don’t over-share or over-talk. You must be aware, all the time, of what you’re actually saying to your dog and when if you wan’t your dog to actually be responsive to you when you give a command.
I only talk to dogs when I am giving them instructions, always immediately followed by some sort of life reward.
Now, on the surface some people immediately see what I just wrote about and say “omg I could never just talk to my dog when I’m giving it command! That’s ridiculous, my dog loves being talked to.” To understand my above statement you have to be able to identify what life rewards truly are, and then you’ll quickly realize its not about ‘not talking to’ you dog, but instead strategically talking to your dog. A LOT of dogs consider an upbeat sing-song praise voice rewarding, so if you want to have a compliant well trained dog you need to master the art of asking for behaviors first before dolling out the verbal praise & chit chat. Yes, dogs loves it! Yes, talking to your dog strengthens your bond with you dog. You just need to be careful about in what order you do things. It’s actually easier than you think!
I don’t raise my voice and constantly yell at dogs when they’re doing something wrong (because I’ve trained them to make the right choices instead)
Look, nobody likes to be yelled at all the time. It doesn’t feel good, makes your dog distrusting of you and honestly doesn’t accomplish anything. My rule is that unless your dog has a clear understanding of what is expected, you can’t tell them no. No is non descriptive. No implies “Not that, this” <–but what’s “this”? Have you already trained your dog to preform the behaviors you desire it to do. Have you taken the time, using food and reward based training, to actively spend time training your dog? I save my big scary loud “no” voice for life or death type scenarios, not just because I’m frustrated with my dog in that moment. If you aren’t constantly raising your voice at your dog, there’s a better chance that when you do it will be more meaningful because your dog rarely hears you be upset.
I pet, kiss and snuggle dogs when they’ve done something to earn it, not just “because.”
My dogs have to earn my affection! But the good news is, I give them lots of easy ways to do this. It can be as simple as sitting before they’re invited on the sofa to snuggle. Waiting politely at the door before being leashed up to go, or giving me eye contact before being allowed to go play with dog friends. By always asking my dogs to preform some sort of obedience cue before having access to cuddling & snuggling which they love, I keep all my obedience cues fresh and sharp so when I need them in other contexts, they work! Hey, nobody works for free. Not you, not me. If someone stopped paying us we’d stop showing up to work. Your dog is no different. Yet people forget that petting praise IS a reward, and because it is, we can’t just give it away for “free” if we’re ever going to master this dog training thing.
So now, what to do if my dog is currently completely out of control and I need to rebuild relationship?
I challenge you to stop talking to him for a week. Think you can do it? Don’t talk to him unless you’re actually going to provide meaningful communication. Everyday human conversation is not meaningful conversation to a dog. Then, when you finally do talk to him, start off on the right foot with some positive reinforcement based training using food. Think you can do it? I know you can.
But if you need help, we’re here to help. 🙂
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