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Better Your Communication With Your Dog

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Ms. Millar has been an online writer for 10 years. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with anyone who can make use of it.

If Only They Understood!

Wouldn't it be awesome if we could talk to our dogs and our dogs talk to us and we understood each other?!

Potty training would take merely minutes instead of weeks, months and sometimes years! We could just have a sit down when we brought Fido home and tell him like it is, we go outside in the yard to do our business. Well, you go outside in the yard, I use the restroom here in the house.

Whatever you say!

Whatever you say!

But, they can't. As of this writing, as far as I know, they cannot, yet.

Dog Confused.

Dog Confused.

Leader Of The Pack

Instead we only get that inquisitive, tilted head look of, "What was that noise that came out of the hole in your face?" from our canine pets.

This lack of a common language poses a challenge to humans to get our point across to our dogs. Humans have one big problem with communication. We put our human feelings into our pets, our dogs especially, when they cannot comprehend situations the same way as humans do.

A dog does not rue for what he did or didn't get during puppyhood. They never blame their parents for where they ended up in life. Dogs live in the here and now.

In the wild, dogs live in packs. There is a very, very simple structure to their world. The alpha dog leads. Everyone looks to him/her for where they are going, what they are hunting, who eats, and what is acceptable behavior in the pack.

Reprimand is most often simply a hard stare from the alpha, or a growl. Very rarely is there a physical attack.

In your home you must be that leader of the pack. If you aren't going to take the position, your dog will!

Are You The Leader Of Your Pack?

If you are secure in your position of leader of your pack, in your home, then there is no reason for you to read any further. On the other hand, if you find you have to put your knee out to block your dog from running out the door when you open it, or you have to grab his collar and hold him back to answer the door you can safely assume that you are not the leader of your pack. These are all behaviors you allow your dog to do that demonstrate you are not the leader.

I can hear you already, "No way. I don't tell my dog to do those things." or "I don't allow my dog to do that!"
Yes, you do.

Consider this, does your dog jump up onto your dinner table during Thanksgiving dinner and eat off of your plate? Of course not! What civil minded person would, right? You don't allow your dog to jump on the table because it is very unacceptable to you. The same should go for any behavior you don't want. Try having this mindset about other behaviors your dog has that you don't appreciate. You'll be surprised what can be accomplished with the mindset of the leader of the pack.
Time and time again I see people miscommunicating to their dog. You know what behavior you want your dog to exhibit. But there's a gap between communicating your wants to your dog so he/she understands.

See Things Your Dogs Way

It can often be helpful to look in on a situation, instead of being directly involved, to help us understand what is really going on.

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The following is a real situation I observed. The scenario might help you see things your dogs way. From his/her point of view.


For a moment try to place yourself in the paws of the dog in the following situation. Your name is Swishy.
There's a knock at the door, The dog, you, Swishy, starts barking. You won't stop barking even after the person has entered the house. Your owner is sitting down and holding you by the collar all the while petting you and talking calmly to you. You continue barking on and a conversation is nearly impossible. Your owner continues petting you and rubbing behind your ears where you like it best. Your owner continues speaking to you calmly, "Blah, blah, blah Swishy. Blah Blah. Blah, Swishy, blah blah." Your owner might even give you a little piece of treat during this, while still petting you. You continue barking.

Scenario Swishy

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. If you were really able to be Swishy for that moment, how do you think your owner felt about you and your barking?
    • He wanted you to continue barking.
    • He had no feelings good or bad toward you at that moment.
    • He wanted you to stop barking.

Answer Key

  1. He wanted you to stop barking.

Confusing Communication

Swishy's owner wanted her to stop barking. He couldn't figure out why Swishy would not stop barking when people would come to the door. Friends and family were irritated with the barking that went on and on when they would arrive.

How confusing was that? The wrong signals were given to Swishy. In Swishy's position did you not feel that your owner approved of your barking? From a bystanders point it appeared like her owner was happy with her behavior, even encouraging it. The petting of the fur, the treat given, and her name spoken calmly. These are interpreted as a reward to a dog. Of course she's going to continue barking, louder and longer to keep her owner happy as she see's it as a dog.

Swishy is going to follow the direction that is most pleasant. The barking is turned into a very pleasant direction by her owner, so she will continue it. If she stops barking some of the pleasantness might go away (and probably would) so barking is the best route for her.

Proper Communication

Every signal give to Swishy was one of approval. When the owner was asked, "Why are you stroking her fur the entire time?" The owner responded, "I was trying to calm her down by petting her." This is a confusing signal. Petting should be reserved for approval of the current behavior.

As for the treat given to Swishy while she continued barking the question was posed, "Why would you give her a treat while she's still barking." The owner's response, "To take her mind off of the person that is at the door." The dog is not going to forget what she was barking about that easily. On the contrary, the dog is going to take it as a reward for the barking and continue barking to get another treat.

The last question, "What was the purpose of saying to Swishy, "It's okay. It's alright." while she was barking? The owner's response, "I was telling her that it's all okay. There's nothing to be worried about." Again, dogs do not understand language of any type. Swishy only hears, "Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah." The same blah, blah, blah, you use to reward her. Swishy has no idea that there is a problem with the barking. Encouraged and praised like this it will only continue.

GestureWhen to use it.Reason

Petting the dog.

Reserve petting for neutral behavior and for praise of good behavior.

Petting your dog is a huge reward for them. For some dogs it is as big a reward as a treat!

Providing treats to the dog.

Use treats only as a reward when your teaching a new behavior.

A treat is positive reinforcement.

Speaking in a low calm voice to the dog.

Speak low and calm in your interactions with your pet. When an unwanted behavior is shown use a more aggressive tone.

Your dog understands an angry tone from a neutral to soft tone.


Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on October 12, 2020:

I know right!

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 11, 2020:

Very informative - especially how dogs can differentiate between an angry tone from a neutral and soft tone. I am very fascinated by pets in general, thinking what's going on in their beautiful minds. I feel if they understood us completely, maybe the dynamics would change. They will not be as sweet to us as they are now :)

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