One thing that my clients do not seem too clear on is how to tell their dog what they want them to do. Of course, I am not talking about the WORDS they use – your dog does not understand English, or Spanish, or Arabic, or any spoken language in the conventional human sense. They understand message intent and that is conveyed, just like in humans, by the two NON-VERBAL type of communication: body language and vocal inflection. The third component is actual words but in the human world, people only listen to 7% of what is said, 93% to the non-verbal communication. Your dog? Communication is 100% non-verbal. And it should be. No talking, control them by energy/body language.
I’m not saying that your dog doesn’t understand what a repetitive sound means, I’m saying they did understand the sound until they connected it with a certain energy (body language) and message intent (vocal inflection). For example, the biggest mistake that all of us hear in the owners’ message when their dog misbehaves is, “It’s okay, don’t be upset; there, there,” etc., etc. The dog, however, hears no intensity of leadership behind that way of “direction” and therefore ignores the “commands”. And the cycle continues and the behavior gets worse.
Even our well-behaved dogs need direction now and then, and sometimes they do not “listen” (by the way, they HEAR you; they just aren’t impressed with your INTENT). There is a difference in how we say what we need to say and when, so let’s take something from what I teach law enforcement officers about directing people in a way that they will understand what is meant, and how serious I am about it. It is three simple steps:
ASK, TELL, COMMAND. When you ask, when you tell, and when you command you use your voice in a distinctly different way. It’s all about message intent. What happens when you only ASK for a behavior? Well, the answer might be, “No,” and then what? The next step is TELL, as in, “I need you to do this.” It’s not a question but it’s not a command. If the response to this is, “I’m not really interested in doing that,” then the next escalated response by you is, “I need you to do this right now!” and your voice sounds different still. I am sure you are beginning to get the idea.
Can you start with a command? Sure, but the message and the response is immediately important. If your child was in the road with an approaching car, your message to get out of the road will need an immediate response because it is super important! It’s also important to understand that not every direction is as important as the example I just gave. Like the cartoon at the end of this post, confusing and conflicting communication equals NO COMMUNICATION and means repeated unwanted behavior. Why? No clear direction by the Pack Leader. Remember that unclear direction to your dog is NOT leadership, and they will respond accordingly (weak energy by the human equals dominant behavior by the dog, which then becomes aggression). Dogs and humans do not follow weak leaders.
Until next time, stay calm and communicate clearly!