How often can the misbehavior of our dogs be blamed on our poor communication skills? Superior and effective communication is the key to all good relationships. Communication between you and your dog is even more vital because inherently you speak such different languages. Dog’s live in a world of black and white behavior.
Behavior is either good or bad they have trouble understanding shades of grey when it comes to situations and our expectations. In order to achieve clarity when you communicate with your dog, you must eliminate grey areas in your training.
Humans often approach things depending on the given situation:
- My dog can jump on me when I come home as long as I am not in my nice work clothes.
- My dog can come up with me in the bed as soon as my husband leaves, but never while he is home.
Our reaction depends on certain aspects of the situation. However, because our dogs are unable to use reasoning skills they are at a great disadvantage and are unable to understand the slight nuances that we as humans so easily see.
Conflict arises when a dog doesn’t understand how its behavior elicits such different responses. Conflict can often create negative, unwanted, and sometimes even aggressive behavior. It can even create some neurotic behaviors, like spinning, tail chasing, and chomping of the teeth. This is because the animal is confused and doesn’t understand whether his behavior will elicit reward or punishment so he is finding a coping skill to help him feel better.
We must achieve maximum clarity and effective communication with our dogs. We must convey the meaning and our intentions exactly and our dogs must be able to accurately predict which behaviors we want and which we don’t want.
Mark Both Good and Bad Behaviors
We must mark the behavior we want the moment that it happens with a verbal cue. A well timed “Good” or “Yes” or the clicker followed up with a treat says to your dog “THAT’S WHAT I WANT!” You must be consistent and mark and reward the behavior immediately when the dog shows it this will ensure continuation of the behavior and soon understanding.
On the same token, it is helpful if we mark the behaviors we don’t want with the verbal command “No” to communicate to our dog where he went wrong. Physical correction is not recommended, your hands never need to touch the dog. Simply withhold the reward. Your dog will realize when he hears “No” that the specific behavior is wrong and he does not need to show it again if he wants to be rewarded.
- For Example: If you put your dog on a down stay and he breaks and runs toward you. If you wait until he gets to you to correct him or mark the behavior, how does he know which behavior you don’t want; Was it getting up? Was it because he ran too slow or too fast? Or, was it because he came to you? As soon as he gets up you must mark it with a quiet “No” (the intention is not to scare him) and take him back to where he was and try again.
Break Down All Behaviors
Each behavior you are teaching should have a command and a chance for reward. Do not compound behaviors.
- For Example: Many people who compete in obedience trials often compound multiple behaviors into one simple command. “Heel” may mean to stay in a specific place while walking and it may also mean staring up at his partner and giving him eye contact.
But, unless the behaviors have specific commands how can we work on just one if there is a problem and avoid confusion. If the heeling is perfect, but the eye contact is lacking, how does the dog understand which behavior is keeping him from his reward?
If you separate the behaviors into separate commands you can mark the incorrect behavior with a quiet “No” and give the command for eye contact again. This gives the dog the opportunity to understand which behavior was lacking and correct it in order to gain his reward.
You must be consistent, there is only one path to reward, this allows your dog to be clear headed and not waste his energy. We mustteach him through consistency and clear communication how to learn. This clarity allows him to be successful and will lead to a much stronger bond and better obedience.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.