Any relationship we enter with another living creature starts with communication. Communication consists of such a broad category of body language, words, sounds, gestures, intent, and understanding. Many people do not realize that many behavioral issues, obedience problems or a dog not meeting our expectations might simply be a result of us not speaking the same language as our dogs.
Let's take body language for example. Maybe every time your dog resists coming to you, refuses to get off the bed, or doesn't want to leave the comfy couch you grab your dog by the leash and pull him, perhaps you even push him. This has communicated to your dog that some touch is scary, hurts, and especially when a person stands up and reaches toward him, that he may anticipate discomfort. So your dog communicates back. He starts to growl. We have invited our dog into a communication pattern that is negative. Your intent may be "I want my dog to do what I say." But at what cost? If we want our dogs to do what we ask of them, it first has to be a request; not a command. When a person commands something it does not suggest choice. It suggests dominance and a superior thought process that the dog is to obey. In a respectful relationship we want to communicate trust and safety so that when we work with our dogs we help them learn cues. Cues that can show dogs with our body language and words what action we want them to take. The dogs actions get rewarded with positive reinforcement as a way to help the dog understand, "yes you did this right, I want you to repeat this behavior."
Effective communication has to be considered one of the pillars of a successful relationship with our dogs.
When we send information to our dogs we can do so by the tone of our voice, by if we are standing a certain way, by a look, by our energy, by our praise or lack there of. People are honestly not very consistent in communicating with their dogs. We are very wordy, we are emotional, we have bad days, we are essentially "human." I think this is an important point. I see people who let their dog on the couch DAILY, but when the extended family comes (which is very exciting for the dog) the dog gets in trouble for getting on the couch. That is ineffective communication and confusing. Another example, is dogs jumping on their people. Many humans let their dogs enthusiastically jump on them, quite frankly, encouraging it. For instance, you just get home from work and love all over your dog who greets you excitedly. But later in the day when you go to take him for a walk and he is jumping all over you, he gets yelled at, "No, bad boy!" This is inconsistent communication and giving our dogs mixed signals as to whether this behavior is "good or bad," to be repeated or extinguished.
How can our dogs learn if we are not being effective teachers and communicators?
The good news is we can change our behavioral pattern and the way we communicate with our dogs by becoming more mindful and self-reflective. Spend the time to think about the words you use to talk to your dog, think about the tone you use when you are tired or in a bad mood, reflect on what your intent is when you touch your dog out of frustration; and most importantly realize that if you want your dogs behavior to change we have to first be open enough to change our own behavior and reduce any patterns of ineffective communication.
Your dog is listening, what you communicate from here on out is up to you!
Meet the Behaviorist, Jennifer Caves, M.Psy, CGC:
Welcome dog lovers and all dogs! I am the founder and Canine-Human Educator for REAL Animal Behavioral Solutions. We consider our work to be rooted in science and driven by ethics. Our passion meets purpose mission is unique in that we empower and educate people with a lifelong skill set to help any dog they share their life with currently or in the future. Dogs are incredibly resilient and intelligent and when the humans in their life know the how, why and successful implementation of behavioral principles- our dogs become happy, healthy and healed.
I have my Masters in Psychology and Canine Good Citizen Certification through the AKC. I have literally been rescuing animals since I was 16 years old with 15 years of behavioral experience. I consider it a privilege to work with you and your dog!
Real Animal Behavioral Solutions provides a holistic whole body-whole brain scientific approach to training using positive reinforcement and relationship building principles. Our one of a kind dog-psychology encompasses the mind and body connections that are inherently at work in dog behavior.