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Communication: A Dog’s Way
by Joe Law
6 June 2012

If only dogs could understand a humans’ language. If only dogs in return could speak our language then TRAINING would be so much easier.  It just does not work that way!

How many times have dog owners spoken to their dogs in humans’ everyday language and then waited to see how the dog responds only to be disappointed and even frustrated with the outcome. Again, it just does not work that way! A dog communicates with its eyes and its body language. When dogs communicate with each other they observe each other’s body postures and all the body movements while vocal noise, if any, probably being used to express an emotion. Similarly, when relating to humans a dog will carefully observe the humans body language in an attempt to understand the human’s intentions and then respond accordingly.

CommunicationsWhen a dog has bonded with a human that it has learnt to trust it will observe intently that human’s body language in an attempt to respond to the messages being transmitted. Trainers, aware of the situation, will pay careful attention to their own body language to convey desired messages to the dog.  Fancy words might impress other humans but will mean very little if anything to their canine companion.

People are sometimes amazed and even suspect that their dog has some kind of extra sensory perception because it appears to know what they are thinking and what they are about to do next when all that is happening is that the dog has been observing their every move and combined with previous experience is able to predict and anticipate what is about to follow. Good dog trainers are acutely aware of the process and often remain quiet while concentrating on their own body language to convey the desired messages. Some experienced dog trainers will advise dog owners to try and shut their mouths completely and only use carefully thought out body signals to convey information to the dog.  They even claim surprising results when this happens. On the other hand, constantly nagging at a dog usually only confuses the situation for the dog and results in frustration for the handler.

Words that are used in training should be short and crisp and not repeated. The idea is to associate the word with an immediate response that can be controlled. For example if the word “Here” is used to call the dog the response needs to be immediate which means the trainer has to make it happen if necessary by having the dog on a lead and giving a sharp tug. When the correct response is offered by the dog without the need for enforcement then the word “Good” used and delivered in an upbeat fashion will convey your pleasure. Reward for a correct response is always appropriate while the word “No” delivered in a low and harsher tone will let the dog know it has done the wrong thing. In good retriever training, because of the dog’s natural desire to retrieve, training can be carefully constructed so that the retrieve itself is used as a high value reward for carrying out other exercises correctly.

Photo by Lara Sedgmen

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Dogs NSW magazine.

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