Let’s talk about talking to our dogs. (Pixie knows all my secrets. We are all a little nutty around here.) Truly communicating with your dog goes far beyond one 6 week puppy class where they learned how to sit (sort of) when you are holding a cookie. Training is your way of teaching you dog how you will communicate with them, and what certain words mean, and what is expected in certain situations. Dogs don’t know English when they show up at your house, just like you don’t know a foreign language when you show up in a different part of the world. It takes time to learn that language and culture and taking time to learn helps you feel more confident when you go to that country. It’s our responsibility to teach them our language since we decided to invite them into our homes and lives.
I think you will agree that communication is a two way street and you need to have two parties involved for effective communication. If one party is not listening or doesn’t understand what you are saying, then communicating is not happening. When we are out with our friends and they seem overly distracted, we often take a look around and wonder what is going on that has pulled their attention away from the conversation. Maybe the scary clown just walked in the room, or if your friend is really struggling to keep focused, you change the conversation and ask them “if they are okay.” Dogs are supposed to be “man’s best friend” but we don’t ask them if they are okay when they are struggling.
How do we communicate with our dogs?
We say things to them, but do they listen? Can they listen? Do they understand what you are saying? Are they being “stubborn”?
This is where your training comes into play. Does your dog know that “sit” means put their tail on the ground and keep their elbows up everywhere you ask? Or do they think that because you have a cookie in their face, and they are in that space that you typically train, that they should try a “sit” and see what happens. Often, people tell me “he knows this” but the dog is telling me otherwise. Maybe your dog does know what you are asking in the comfort of your living room where you do all your training. Dogs are incredibly forgiving and put up with a whole lot of miscommunication from us, and a whole lot of higher expectations than they are ready to tackle!
When your dog doesn’t listen, take inventory of what is going on for your dog. Did the scary clown just show up in the room? That could be in the form of a truck noise, the neighbor doing construction on their house, or the wind blowing. Dogs noses work a whole lot better than ours so keep in mind that when we walk out the front door to go for a walk, we analyze the world with the our eyes while your dog analyzes it with their nose. We see our normal boring neighborhood but they are trying to filter the critters, the bugs, the cars that went by 20 minutes ago… you get the idea.
The next time you ask Fido for that sit, take a moment to see why he may not comply. Is this a new place, have you practiced “sit” enough times for him to understand what you are asking? Did something weird just happen that took his attention away from you? Don’t automatically assume he is being stubborn or defiant. In my experience dogs always want to do what we ask, they may not be able to actually comply for one reason or another.
Remember that you are his protector, and you understand this world he lives in. It’s up to you to make sure he is confident and can look to you for answers to his questions.
Does your dog talk to you? Head over to Facebook and tell me about that time that your dog told you something was too hard!