By Langley Cornwell
Human communications are very different from dog communications and sometimes, even those of us who consider ourselves knowledgeable and responsible pet owners unwittingly send mixed signals to our canine companions. By doing so, we often confuse them. The result is that we may be teaching our dogs to continue with behaviors that we really want them to stop. It’s important to consider how dogs socialize and communicate with one another and not how humans communicate with one another, or how we think we should communicate with our dog. Here are some of the most common ways we miscommunicate with our dogs. Addressing these issues can improve your dog’s behavior and enhance your relationship.
Adjust Your Tone
The tone of your voice says far more to your dog than your actual words do. Dogs learn to recognize their names and some commands, but they are much more attuned to your body language, tone and inflection than to real words. If you yell their name and you also yell “no” to stop them from doing something, you’re not only sending mixed signals but also setting yourself up for future trouble. Most likely, you’ll get the same response from both the “no” command and the name command, which is probably going to be to avoid you. Make sure your tone, volume and inflection all convey your request and that a response is met with positive reinforcement no matter what the request is.
Speak the Language
Dogs can’t say things like “I’m uncomfortable with this situation,” so they do other things to convey their feelings. Hackles up means the dog is feeling aggressive, as does a growl. But aggression doesn’t always mean the dog is angry. It can simply mean they are uncomfortable and prepared to be defensive if the situation warrants it. The best solution is not to chide the dog, but to remove him from the circumstances that make him uncomfortable.
Some dogs are so nervous that they are overly submissive. They may do things like pee on the floor when greeted. When this happens, don’t yell at your dog. Instead, turn your back. Your dog is peeing in an effort to display submission. If you aren’t looking, they have no one to submit to. Keep your back turned and wait for your dog to come to you.
Remember that dogs are fixated on getting attention. When they do things like jump on people, a punishment is not effective, but removing the attention is. Turn your back and warn others that this is a behavior issue you are trying to correct, so they should turn their back or you should stand in front of them and turn your back.
Be the Alpha
Canines are pack animals. Their social order includes one alpha. They consider you as part of their pack and as long as you demonstrate leadership, they consider you the alpha. That means you get the best of everything and are not to be challenged. Maintain the alpha position in your dog’s eyes. Avoid doing things like sitting on the floor while your dog sits on the couch; this is a mixed signal your dog will have a hard time processing. Additionally, make your commands clear, and try to be the one who presents food, water and freedom in the form of play.
Dogs are creatures of habit. They do best with a stable schedule and clear expectations. You are the one who sets that schedule and those expectations. This also means you need to stand firm. When you don’t want your dog on the counter, don’t ever be okay with him going there. Treat other rules in the same way. Consistency is a key to sending clear signals.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Always reward your dog when he does something correctly. You can reward with some high quality dog treats like CANIDAE, along with petting and loving words. Avoid luring your dog with bribes. This sends mixed signals, and he will begin to expect that and ultimately only respond to it.
Treat even the dog’s crate as a positive thing. Dogs see it as their “cave” or safe place, not a place of punishment, so act accordingly. Avoid punishment as a training tool altogether. It is ineffective and may cause your dog to fear you. Instead, remove attention from the dog when he does something you didn’t want him to, and praise him lavishly when he does something you do want him to.
There’s nothing more gratifying than being completely in sync with your canine friend. Smooth communications raises the level of bonding, and makes life easier on everyone involved.
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell