I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person who has one-sided conversations with their pet. Dogs are, after all, very good listeners even though they haven’t the foggiest idea what we’re saying most of the time. However, dogs do have the ability to understand our tone of voice and listen to intonation cues in our words to get a general idea of what we’re trying to get across to them. When talking to your dog during training sessions, your tone and intonation make a difference in getting his attention and helping him understand what you want.
Tone of voice reflects the attitude or emotional mood of the person speaking. Intonation is the fluctuation in our words. It can be a little confusing to tell the difference, but they are two different parts of language. When we speak, our tone tells someone how we are feeling – sad, happy, angry, tired, etc. Intonation is how we express our words with the upward or downward movement of sound. An upward intonation is how the voice rises at the end of a sentence. “Way to go!” “Are you hungry?” A downward intonation is how the voice goes down at the end of a sentence. “What is the matter?” I would love to go, but I have to work.”
When making a positive statement, the intonation cue is usually higher to signal that the intent of the sentence means you are happy, excited or pleased. The intonation cues in a negative statement take a lower pitch and reflect sadness, disappointment or bad news. Understanding the difference between the two is important when giving commands to your dog, because he can tell the difference and it can impact his understanding of what you expect from him.
If most dogs had their way, they wouldn’t put one paw inside the vet’s office. It can be a scary place with unfamiliar smells, slippery floors, cold exam tables and strangers poking them. A routine checkup can cause even a laid back dog to feel stressed out. You can help your dog feel more at ease by teaching him some simple commands.
Go to Your Mat
A mat with a nonslip bottom gives your dog a familiar and safe place to rest while waiting to see the vet. It provides a gripping ability for his feet while on an exam table, the floor, or while being weighed. When training your dog to go to his mat, only use it for positive and pleasant interactions. You want him to learn it’s a secure and happy space. Some dogs might prefer using their favorite blanket instead of a mat.
Asking your dog to shake hands is a good way for him to willingly give his paw to someone. The more he shakes hands, the more comfortable he will be with having his feet handled. Encourage your dog to shake hands with your vet and other staff members to help him develop a relationship with them. This will be helpful when your vet needs to trim your dog’s nails or examine a leg or paw.
Have you ever seen those whistles that people blow and no sound comes out? I’ve always been intrigued by the thought that our canine friends can hear something that makes no perceptible sound to the human ear. When I think of a dog whistle, that’s what I think of, those whistles that make no sound. But we were at a pet expo recently, and there was a demonstration that involved police service dogs performing a variety of exercises. Throughout the program, the dog handlers used whistles we could hear. What’s more, the whistles were different for different dogs. In other words, each dog had a whistle that was specific to him.
When I was young, my dad taught me to curl my tongue, shove two fingers in my mouth and blow. I can make a whistling sound that you can hear in the next time zone. I don’t overuse this super skill, but sometimes when the dogs are hiking with us off-leash and they get out of our range of sight, I let the whistle rip. When they hear it, they come back immediately. Could my fingers be considered a dog whistle? What is a real dog whistle?
A curious genius and relative of Charles Darwin developed the first dog whistle, kind of by accident. Sir Francis Galton was interested in human hearing and how it all worked. In 1876, he developed a small brass whistle with a slide so he could alter the whistle’s frequency, thereby testing the range and limitations of man’s hearing. Thus the Galton whistle was born.
Dr. Patrica McConnell and Dr. Stanley Coren are distinguished dog experts and award winning writers who share their lifelong love of and knowledge about canines in their many published works. I first ran across Dr. McConnell in the late 1990s while channel surfing; a program on Animal Planet called “PetLine” grabbed my attention. McConnell was co-hosting the show, which dealt with animal behavior. Some of you may be familiar with her from a radio show she co-hosted for fourteen years called “Calling All Pets.” Dr. Coren is someone I came across online several years ago while researching aggressive dog behavior.
Dr. Patricia McConnell is an expert on human/animal relationships. She earned a PhD in zoology in 1988 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has been teaching a popular course since 1991 called “The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships” at her alma mater as an adjunct professor. McConnell is a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB). She gives lectures and conducts seminars throughout the world, has been a dog trainer since 1988 working with canines that have serious behavioral issues, is an expert on canine and feline behavior, and author of fourteen books about animal behavior (ethology).
Her first published book in 2002, “The Other End of the Leash,” is read worldwide and published in 14 different languages. She also finds time to appear regularly on several radio shows and an occasional TV appearance. She writes articles for major magazines and participates in fundraisers to benefit animal shelters – most recently in the Midwest and Texas.
Our two dogs are sweet, lovable, and have completely bonded with us. Those are some of the traits they share. A trait they do not share is intelligence. I have had the great good fortune of sharing my life with a menagerie of animals with a wide range of behaviors and characteristics. Of all the animals I’ve ever lived with, however, the big boy I have now is, well, he’s the least smart of the bunch. That’s right, he’s just not that bright.
Not bright, but so willing to please. We call him “the little gentleman” (even though nothing about him is little) because he’ll come and sit down right in front of you as if to say “what do you want me to do now?” If there’s a group of us standing around talking, he’ll walk into the middle of the group and sit properly with his ears and eyes alert, just waiting for someone to tell him what to do. This dog will do anything you ask of him, if only you can get him to understand the request. That’s where things start to break down. He just doesn’t get it. In fact, he doesn’t get much.
I know this is just his nature because we have another dog that is bright. She understands our requests, responds well to training and commands, and clearly exhibits thinking characteristics. She makes wise decisions and seems to know what is expected of her with minimal urging. She has a large vocabulary. I would classify her as a smart dog.
What we say and what we do can be two different things. We’re only human after all, but if we fail to match our words with our actions when training our dogs, we risk creating a credibility gap that can be frustrating, and cause confusion and a loss of trust. During training, it’s important to be aware of not only how you say a command but what your body language is saying to your dog. You may not notice a subtle difference in visual cues, but your dog can clearly see them. What you’re showing your dog could be why he’s confused by what you’re trying to teach him with your voice.
Some canines learn commands faster than others, and some willfully try your patience with their stubbornness. Nevertheless, all dogs are intelligent and can learn basic commands once you understand what motivates him and that he’s more likely paying attention to your body language and hand gestures than listening to your voice. What your dog observes in body language and what he hears could be puzzling to him if they differ. For example, if you hold your hand up with the palm facing your dog and lean towards him as you tell him to stay, your visual cue is saying to come and your voice is commanding him to stay.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.