Humans and dogs speak two very different languages.
Dogs have a difficult time understanding the human language, and many humans have a hard time understanding the language of dogs. Humans tend to rely heavily on the spoken word, and dogs communicate mostly using body language. When our two species try to understand one another, there is often a disconnect.
As the ‘supposedly’ smarter being, it is the human’s responsibility to help your dog understand what it is you are trying to train. Telling your dog “Sit” repeatedly, at increasing volume, is not going to help your dog understand that you’d like him to rest his tail end on the ground. But, if done correctly, your dog will understand what is meant we he hears “Sit”. Dogs learn our words by associations. To help create that association, you need to repeat the process of pairing the action and the cue word several times. Get the dog performing the behavior first, (probably by using a food lure or capturing the moment the dog is doing the behavior) then define that motion for your dog. As your dog sinks his rear to the ground, say the cue word, “Sit”.
It is also the human’s responsibility to understand what it is our dog is trying to tell us. Dogs have an extensive vocabulary. Their language is mostly communicated using different body positions. Just as we try to yell commands at our dogs when there is no way they know what we are saying, our dogs yell their language at us too! Do a Google search for images of dogs being hugged by children and you’ll see lots of dogs trying to tell us how uncomfortable they are. Yawning, licking lips and leaning away are all ways a dog is saying, “this makes me uncomfortable”. Whereas sweeping tail wags and wiggly body movements is usually a dog saying how happy he is currently feeling.
We both have a language that is interesting and complex. It is a fascinating sport to watch your dog, and practice reading his mind. You’ll find that there is so much your dog is telling you, you just have to start listening. Learning to better understand each other will make for a better relationship and deeper bond between you and your dog.
Author: Melissa Laub, CPDT-KA
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