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Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Use Them!
We can’t say it enough: Good dog training requires good communication.
For most of us, the phrase “good communication” makes us aware of our speech. We focus on our words. However, communication is only good if the intended message is received by the target audience.
What happens if your target audience isn’t word savvy? Like your dog.
Language is a huge stumbling block in dog training. Owners, because they’re human, default to words when flustered, upset, anxious, stressed. How often have you found yourself yelling “come!” while your dog trots away from you? Your instinctive response is to keep yelling: come! COME! COME! Your dog remains oblivious. He/she isn’t getting your message. There isn’t good communication.
The goal is to have your dog respond. How do you communicate the message?
First, it’s imperative to remember dogs’ primary language is non-verbal. They understand body language, gestures and vocal tones. With enough practice, they will eventually associate words with specific gestures and vocal inflections. This takes time and repetition. Speech is not their default setting.
Second, it’s important to remember dog training isn’t only about your dog. It’s also about you. You’re training yourself to think, communicate and respond non-verbally. Again, this takes time and repetition. Non-verbal isn’t your default setting.
Stepping outside your norm, i.e. learning a new language, is a process. This is why the initial Got Sit training is six months. We know both you and your dog need time to learn your new languages. We know you’ll need help and reminders.
The good news is dogs are hard-wired to please. They want to get your message. They want to hear you say “good boy!”, get a pat on the head and soak up all your positive feedback. Use this to your advantage!
When you’re working with your dog, over emphasize your movements. Fling your arms wide, make big hand gestures, lean to indicate directions, point with your entire arm, squat down to their eye level. Use your whole body. This gives your dog clear, definitive movements. Exactly what they need to get your message and respond. Ta! Da! Good communication.
Engaging this way feels awkward and silly at first. That’s okay. Keep doing it! Remember, it isn’t about how you look, it’s about communicating effectively with your dog. As your skill set increases, you won’t need to exaggerate your body language. Your dog will understand the understated versions of your movements.
AJ and Cleo are excellent examples of this. AJ can stand across a parking lot, flick a finger and Cleo knows exactly what he’s asking her to do. This is the result of a lot of hard work on both their parts. They’ve graduated to these barely discernable indicators.
With time, practice and consistency, your dog will associate words with your movements – finally! You’ll be one of those cool dog owners who appear to mind-meld with their amazingly, responsive dog. (Think Marvin and Tango.) Even then, it’s important to continue using non-verbal cues. Your dog associates actions with particular sounds and situations. He/she doesn’t actually understand your spoken language. They’re still looking for non-verbal indicators.
The adage goes “actions speak louder than words.” When working with your dog, actions are the words. The next time you find yourself yelling “come!” and getting no response, check yourself. Are you using the right language? If not, fling your arms wide. It’s a sure bet your dog will get the message.
Need help matching actions to commands? Have questions about using body language effectively? Call us! Our Got Sit trainers are always happy to help: 425.405.5748