Shut up and your dog will listen

Does your dog have selective hearing? Not come when called? Have behavioural issues like separation anxiety, overexcitement, aggression, or hyperactivity?

Part of the problem may be that you’re talking too much to your pet. My clients are always surprised when the very first training assignment with their dog is to stop talking to them all together.

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First let me be very clear. This is not meant as punishment by giving your dog the cold shoulder or silent treatment. Talking less lays the foundation for better communication and a stronger bond with your dog. Sounds unintuitive, I know.

Let me explain…

The reality is dogs, do not communicate with words, that’s something only humans do. A dog doesn’t call or text it’s best friend about the latest gossip. When you come home and tell your dog about your day, he doesn’t ask you questions or offer feedback. This is because dogs are animals and communicate primarily through energy and body language. A dog picks up on energy instinctually, so when you think about it, words aren’t necessary. Humans are always communicating with their energy and body language and yet are largely unaware of what we’re saying to each other and to our dogs that way. We use words often to complicate, or even mask/lie about our true feelings. But our dog’s are on to us. They know us better than we do and can see through our verbal B.S.

Your dog is always assessing you, how you feel and what you want. They do this by watching how you move, where you are holding tension in your body, and how you are breathing. They pick up on your energy the moment you walk into a room. Our dogs cannot understand the context around why we may be feeling nervous or frustrated but they can definitely sense that something is wrong. That’s why it’s really important to be aware of your energy when you talk to your dog. Not only are you putting your energy onto them, you are also rewarding whatever state of mind they are currently in because talking is a way that we reinforce our dogs behaviour. For instance, let’s say you’re going to your first day at a new job. You wake up early and are flustered while getting ready (first day jitters!). You change you outfit several times. You’re convinced you’re going to be late and so you rush. But before your leave you have to pace the house making sure you’ve got everything you need. Before closing the door behind you, you tell Sparky while giving him a pet, “Wish me luck today. It’s a big day at mommy’s new job. You be a good boy while I’m gone. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. Promise. Love you!”

Now from your dog’s perspective: He’s observed you fanatically going through your closet, pace the room, and get flustered before leaving him with a soliloquy about all your stress. He followed you while you paced around the house, reflecting your anxiety. And then before you close the door you project all your worries onto him while he is completely unsure about what’s about to happen. You’re anxious, he’s anxious, and his anxiety has been rewarded because you spoke to him and gave him a scratch. And he actually didn’t understand a single word you said. All he got was, “wow, my human is really unbalanced today. And it’s hard not to pick up on that. The good news is she likes when I’m unbalanced too.”

But how does this relate to unwanted behaviours, you ask? You come home and tell Sparky all about your day. But then you ask him to sit before you put down his food dish and he just stares at you. Then you tell him to go out for a pee. Again he just stares at you blankly. Then on a walk you tell him not to pull, to slow down, to stay calm, to greet nicely, not jump up, etc. He completely ignores you. This is because all you’ve done is talk, talk, talk. That at this point he doesn’t know the difference between a conversation versus a command. You’re dog has tuned you out because you sound like Charlie Brown’s Teacher.

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Let’s review.

  1. We are always communicating to our dogs – through our energy and body language. Words aren’t necessary.
  2. When you talk to your dog you’re reinforcing whatever state of mind they’re currently in (anxious, excited, fearful, etc.)
  3. Talk to your dog when they are calm and when you have something important to say (like a command)
  4. When we speak to our dogs less, we will observe more
  5. Let’s face it, we talk to our dogs for our own benefit – not theirs. They really won’t miss it so don’t feel bad for them.

So here’s a tip. Zip it! Talk less to your dog and only say what is necessary. All of my clients say that even though it’s hard to do, they see HUGE improvements immediately. A calmer dog. A dog that actually does as he’s told. A dog that’s more checked in with them. So try it for a week (yes no talking to your dog for an entire week) and let me know the difference you see. And if you’re struggling call your mother…or your therapist.

Stay Calm Assertive!

Liz

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