May 19, 2021
Interspecies communication is a wonderful, almost magical thing. And we have to give canines much more credit than humans. Seriously. We tend to give our dogs confusing, often conflicting messages that would befuddle even the smartest human...So let’s give credit where credit is due.
When we provide feedback to our dogs, it is important to remember this simple maxim: It’s not WHAT we say, it’s HOW we say it. (You know, kind of like with humans.) Nonverbal cues are vital to effective communication – especially when the one receiving the message has no concept of the English language.
Dogs have a language all their own and most of them do a miraculous job translating our jibber-jabber into canine-speak. Dogs respond to volume, tone, facial expression and body language. Sure, most dogs understand some words (ball, sit, treat, no, etc.), but the best way to talk with your four-legged buddy is to be mindful of his or her linguistic limitations.
Instead of spending hours and hours teaching your dog to speak YOUR language, try to learning dog speak. It’s a lot less frustrating … and less time consuming. This is not to say you shouldn’t teach basic commands. But try thinking a little more like a dog. After all, effective communication is a two-way street...so you might as well compromise!
To do so, here are a few tips...
A lot of us fall into the habit of having a near-constant dialog with our dog.
The simple fact is that your dog will learn verbal cues quicker if you aren’t CONSTANTLY throwing words at them... because dogs, of course, don’t speak in complete sentences. So trying to decipher chatter from commands can be a challenge. When you are bonding with your buddy – or giving praise for a job well done – chattering and cooing is wonderful. But it is not instructive. In other words, keep your direct communication short, sweet, and clear.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone whose language you don't speak? Many of us constantly repeat a word (often mispronounced) over and over. And each time we say the word, we raise our voice, and change our emphasis, tone, or inflection...
It doesn’t help.
And it doesn’t help with dogs either. So when you're giving your dog a command, try to give the command once…and then wait for the appropriate response. It may take time, but the goal is to eventually to get it right the first time. Your dog will be less confused and more obedient when he or she fully gets the meaning the first time.
Dogs understand intonation much better than they understand language. So how you speak with your buddy matters. There are five typical tones most dogs understand:
1. Cheerful (high volume, high pitch): Used to praise or to show you’re ready for play time.
2. Disappointed (low volume, low pitch): Used to show displeasure or disapproval.
3. Reassuring (low volume, high pitch): Used to express affection and comfort.
4. Firm(low volume, low pitch): Used to get the dog’s attention. Also for most commands.
5. Caution (high volume, high or low pitch): Used to express danger.
As with all things involving canine communication, it's essential to be consistent in your approach among all members of the family. Timing is also key. When you see something that needs to be corrected, speak immediately, using the correct tone. If you wait to verbally reprimand improper behavior, you are contributing to the problem!
There is no fool-proof, 100% right way or wrong way to effectively communicate with your dog. BUT when you find whatever works for you, always be consistent, kind and thoughtful – just like you would be with any other loving member of your family.