Understanding Your Dog

….and learning how to speak dog!

If you’re not speaking their language they can’t listen. What’s a dog’s language you ask? Energy and body language. There’s no Rosetta Stone course for that. We humans can learn dog language by observing dogs. We have taken one of the world most social animals and de-socialized them.

The best way to understand your dog is to look at things from his/her point of view – Umwelt! What may be obvious to you may not be so clear to your dog (s). Although humans and dogs share many of the same emotions we are different species and operate and perceive thing differently. It is your responsibility as a guardian to learn how to “SPEAK DOG” since dogs do not speak English! Remember, YOU said “yes” to getting a dog. Your dog didn’t ask for you. Give him/her everything they need.

Every dog is an individual, just like you and me and therefore need different approaches. I can promise you that if you’re yelling, isolating, suppressing, ignoring your dog or worse, you’re going down the wrong path. STOP. Your dog will live in a sad, frustrating and lonely place that will take a toll on him/her.

LET DOGS BE DOGS ~ We all need to pause and contemplate something – suppression. Have you ever stopped to consider how many times a dog is told “no, stop, bad, quit it, get out of here …?” Many are not taken out for leash walks, they are crated and left alone for hours on end. If they are walked, they are yanked with metal chains when they even dare to sniff a scent or go near another dog all while the person on the other end of the lead is on their phone. Dogs are not allowed to be dogs. They are micromanaged, isolated, forbidden, banished and often times neglected. Adding insult to injury, they are often times repeatedly admonished. We must all exercise more self awareness and ensure that we stop the suppression and start allowing these beautiful animals that offer us so many things the gift to be dogs. Let them sniff, dig, wiggle, greet, run and play. Leave the phone at home and enjoy your dog.

Below is a list of helpful tips providing insight on how your dog thinks. “Training” is not really about teaching “sit, down, come, etc.” That’s super easy.  It’s really about developing a relationship with your dog. A trusting, loving and understanding relationship. When you take the time to make this happen, your dog will follow your lead and the greatest gift you will have is not only a dog that will sit, lie down or come but an incredible, loving bond that will last forever.

Dogs want to avoid conflict at all costs. Please keep that in the forefront of your mind. Therefore, it’s imperative to refrain from creating a stressful environment. Make your home a peaceful and positive place. Aversive tactics, yelling, banishing, snapping, yanking, pointing, and worse; will cause tremendous stress, anxiety and yes, even health problems. Canines are a direct descendant of the wolf. They are pack animals who thrive on a social environment. Because of this, dogs perceive relationships as a hierarchy, with one leading (NOT DOMINATING) and the other following. Having said that, the concept of “Alpha” dog has created a false understanding of how dogs operate. Dogs need to be part of your family.  They are social animals and will be depressed, anxious and even aggressive when isolated. Include your dog in EVERYTHING you do (as long it’s safe for your dog), such as playing, exercising, eating, and socializing! A dog’s primary concern is identifying the pack leader and what his number is within the family group dynamic. Remember, all dogs have a strong willingness to learn while avoiding conflict.

Set fair, firm and FUN set of rules to live by. These need to be set by you the guardian, otherwise your dog will have no other choice than to make his/her own rules. Dogs need a kind, stable and consistent leader –YOU.

Give your dog a job! Dogs are selectively bred for specific personality traits. Find out what your dog was breed for and take advantage of putting their talent to work!Labrador Retrievers are bred to retrieve … organize retrieving games. Teach and play “find it” with food or toys. Make it fun!

Set realistic expectations. A dog lying at your feet will only happen if you provide your dog with what they need – healthy food, attention, manners, mental and physical exercise and a safe environment. If you decided on a hunting breed that is hard wired to work, run and bond from sunrise to sunset make sure you’re going to provide for that type of individual.

Association vs. linking. Dogs learn in black and white. There are “yes” or “no” options in a dogs’ minds. “Maybe” is a grey area and leads to confusion which leads to a misbehaved dog. Dogs do NOT have the ability to connect events. They can only make associations with immediately circumstances. If you come home and find the garbage ripped open please do NOT yell at your dog. They will associate punishment with your arrival home and NOT the garbage. Dogs don’t do the latter “out of spite” or because they were mad. Want to teach your dog how to enjoy the world around him? Pair high value real food with any and everything at a young age. Bicycles, loud trucks, other dogs, small children, farm animals, lawn decor, the vacuum, you name it … pair it with a positive! It will teach them to look forward to these things rather than be afraid.

Play fun games & teach your dog tricks! have a strong willingness to learn. Take advantage of it! Integrate cues into every part of your dog’s day – Make things fun!

Create consistency in all areas of their lives. That means have a fairly predictable schedule. Use select words to teach your dog, if you allow your dog to jump on you when you have jeans on, but not when you are dressed up, YOU are not consistent and are giving your dog unfair mixed signals. Start the way you mean to go.

Catch your dog doing all of the things that you want him to do! Say YES rather than NO, NO, NO! If you don’t let your dog know when he is doing a good job by acknowledging with a “goood boy!” & giving him a treat, then how will your dog know? Praise is another key to communicating to your dog. Dogs learn by association & positive reinforcement. Make learning FUN. Your dog will learn fast & be HAPPY.

Always use a happy voice to “speak” to your dog; while using a quick concise verbal reprimand when need be. Dogs just love hearing a happy voice. They especially enjoy WHISPERING!

Dogs are masters of reading body language. They are much more tuned in than humans. Use non-threatening body language when around dogs. ie: When you come home from work and see that “Rover” got into the garbage and is hiding in the corner, it is NOT because he “knows that he did something wrong”, it IS because he reads your body language which says to him you are stressed out and angry.

Communicate to your dog with one word cues that are consistently used. Couple with hand signals for each. Saying “sit” rather than saying “sit down” other times. It is also important to not repeat commands over and over, such as “Come, come, come”, that will only teach your dog to ignore you.

Catch your dog doing something RIGHT!!