Tool #1 Teaches You How To Master
The Communication Formula :
Speak Clearly + Listen Carefully =
Powerful Understanding between you and your dog.
Communication is the most powerful and effective training tool available to us…that’s why it’s #1 in this list, and why I’ve devoted a ton of space to this topic.
The biggest problem we face with effective communication between us and our dogs is our belief that it has been accomplished. You’ve done it, I’ve done it, your best friend has done it.
It goes like this:
“My dog NEVER does this at home. He KNOWS how to (fill in the blank). And she ALWAYS does it right in practice.”
From there, it’s really easy to blame our dog for misbehaving, or blowing us off or whatever the phrase of the day is. When we take on the responsibility of making sure our dogs understand what we are trying to communicate, we are headed for success. But, when we don’t take on that responsibility, we are faced with our own feelings of impatience and frustration, which shuts down the ﬂow of communication even more.
Let’s talk about how people and dogs communicate.
One of the best ways to understand dog language is by watching how your dog communicates with other dogs and with people. Often, the signs of communication are very subtle, and unless we are focused on learning and watching for these signs, they are easily missed. Historically, humans have placed most of the responsibility on the dogs for learning how to speak “human”, rather than sharing the responsibility and learning how to speak “dog”. Good trainers switch that around, with excellent results.
I sometimes laugh at how I imagine dogs must perceive us humans at times…when our dog doesn’t “get” what we are saying, we dig into our “primate” toolbox and begin speaking louder and faster, while wildly gesticulating, somehow convinced that this will make our communication to our dogs more clear!
sit. sit! sit! Sit! Sit! SIT! SIT! SIT!!! Then, in exasperation, the non-cognitive trainer says: “She KNOWS how to sit. She just refuses to listen to me!”, when in fact she just doesn’t really understand the meaning of the word. How oddly funny we must seem to dogs sometimes.
Dogs are keen observers.
Cognitive dog trainers employ this amazing ability dogs have to keenly observe and assess everything around them, especially their humans. Mastering this part of the training system requires that you be focused, attentive and clear as you interact with your dogs. Dogs observe us primarily through our physical expressions.
Learn to be aware of and to effectively use your physical expression, including:
• your posture
• the direction of your gaze
• the tension or relaxation of your muscles
• your breathing pattern
• your movement
• the size of your personal space
• the details of your facial expression
Your dog is a master at detecting movement, even microscopic movement. Move away to draw your dog towards you, or move in to move your dog away from you. Your fast movements cause a dog to move faster, slow movements slower.
Dogs hear exceptionally well and you can use sound modulation to effectively communicate with your dog. Soft, slow verbal expressions relax a dog and encourage them to listen more carefully. Short, ﬁrm expression communicates urgency. Quick, repetitive expressions encourage your dog to move faster.
You can learn to use your movement, posture, facial, verbal and emotional expressions, breathing and personal space, as very effective communication tools to teach your dog almost any skill.
All of these bits of communication you are sending out are having an effect upon how your dog responds to you, whether you intend them to or not. Be a student, and allow your dogs to teach you by observing their responses during all of your interactions.
You may not be conscious of it, but you are using non-physical communication all the time. Most of us have had these experiences:
• You walk into a room of people and feel a ‘vibe’ — happy or tense.
• You meet a stranger and like them instantly (or not).
• You get a ‘gut feeling’ about a situation and make a decision based on that.
• You ‘know’ something is just not right with your best friend.
• You think of calling your sister, and the phone rings a moment later and it’s her.
It’s the same with our dogs, whenever we ‘sense’ or ‘know’ what they are trying to tell us. They need to potty. Their tummy hurts. They want to play frisbee. We often haven’t tuned in to our dog’s non-physical communication the same we we do with humans, but we certainly can!
When we combine physical and non-physical communication, we have an interactive ﬂow of information that is rich with nuance and leads to profound understanding.
Are you Listening?
Listening is a key element of communication. It means having an openness to learn something new about another. Listening with the intent to learn is a truly different type of conversation.
Successful communication depends upon a ﬂuid, two-way ﬂow of physical and non-physical information. Staying focused, and ‘present’, is key to effective listening.
Our dogs are masters at this — you can’t fool your dog, can you? 🙂
Listen and learn from your dog, and use that information to enhance partnership, understanding and cooperation.