There are a plethora of resources available to dog owners that offer the best methods of training a dog. They have commonalities and differences, but at the end of the day the methods and practices that you use are going to depend on your individual style. Some leaders in the field, such as Doggy Dan and Cesar Milan, preach about the importance of being a pack leader. Others feel the best way is developing your dog’s vocabulary with precise, easy to understand words that your dog can recognize in any situation. The variety of methods begs the question, what’s the best way to communicate with my dog?
Less than a week after we got Maddie, we had a moment that we will never forget. In fact, it is one that we think of almost daily. It was just about time for us to hit the hay and we were hanging out in bed with Maddie. At the time, she slept in a playpen (we’re not fans of cages) just to the side of our bed. Each night we would walk her in and latch the gate. We hadn’t started training her to go on her own yet and we weren’t giving her any specific command when we wanted her to go to bed.
Yet, on this particular night, without motioning or giving any indication of getting up I said to Maddie, “Ok, time for bed.” To our complete amazement, Maddie jolted off the bed, casually walked into her playpen, and laid down on her blanket. Our jaws simultaneously hit the floor. We could not believe what we just saw and, to be honest, we were a little confused.
How was it that Maddie knew exactly what we wanted? Was it just a coincidence and she was simply ready to put herself to bed? Is A Dog’s Purpose actually true and Maddie is just a reincarnated version of a dog with prior training? Why can’t she do this for all the other training we are working on??
In his book How Dogs Love Us, Gregory Berns seeks to use fMRI machines in order to identify what dogs are thinking. Berns draws on the history of man and dog and notes that “The defining trait of dogs…is their interspecies social intelligence, an ability to intuit what humans and other animals are thinking.” He continues, “More than intuiting what we think, dogs may also feel what we feel. Dogs have emotional intelligence,” (Berns, Loc 3078).
Just as Cesar Millan teaches about the importance of body language and non-verbal communication, Berns explains that our dogs have the unique ability to understand what we are saying without us actually saying. It gives new light to the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Our dogs are constantly monitoring our body language and our emotions in order to enhance their responsiveness and improve the overall relationship.
This is groundbreaking for those looking to effectively train their four-legged friends. It doesn’t matter how many times you say the buzzword that you are working on, if you are not communicating non-verbally with your dog in an effective manner you will have very little success. The bigger picture, the more important aspect of training, is building a deep relationship with your dog.
Think about the most well-trained dogs you have seen. How were their owners? Now think about the craziest dogs that you have seen. How were their owners? There is a very high probability that the owners of the well-trained, well-behaved dogs were calm and respectful of their pups. The dogs that were wild and not trained very well probably have owners that simply treat them like dogs. Even worse, those owners probably treat their dogs like spoiled little babies and their dogs have very little respect for them.
With our own dog, we notice that the more relaxed we are on walks or when training a specific task, the greater response we get from her. There are many instances when simply talking to Maddie as if we were talking to our best friend (which we are) will yield the results we want. A frequent comment you will hear in our house is “I swear Maddie knows English.” There are so many times that we communicate effectively with Maddie simply by using the correct tone. Sure she understands certain words and has probably picked up on more than we know, but there is undoubtedly a connection to how the command is said.
Whether you are just beginning training with a new dog, are looking to teach an old dog new tricks, or are fine tuning your skills, paying attention to how you communicate with your dog is of the upmost importance. It is something that is on 24/7. You cannot be sweet with your dog during a five minute training session, then yell and scream when you want him to come to you later. It is imperative that you build a mutual respect with your dog because dogs understand. They pick up on social and emotional cues, even ones that you don’t know you are giving.
Maddie putting herself to bed that night in the first week we got her is one of our favorite stories. On the surface it seems like she is the world’s greatest dog (and she is) that understands English. The deeper meaning is that dogs of all ages instinctively pick up on our social and emotional signaling. This is why they have evolved with us and are so frequently used as service animals and emotional support animals. Dogs understand us on a deep level and this is why they are appropriately labeled “man’s best friend.”
How do you effectively communicate with your dog? We want to know! Leave a comment below!