In order to get the best results in the least amount of time, try to combine as many of the four ways dogs communicate in such a manner that they will work in harmony with your objective.
Make sure your body language doesn’t communicate the opposite of the behavior you are trying to encourage (or discourage). For instance, I have found that a dog goes through two phases when learning a new behavior. The first phase the dog goes through is learning and understanding the desired behavior. The second phase is a proofing stage in which the dog understands what is expected of him, but tests you to see if you will consistently enforce your requests. Let us assume we are teaching your dog to hold a down-stay– laying down in one spot and not getting up for a specific period of time… regardless of distractions.
When the dog is in the first stage of learning, he will usually lay quietly for a few seconds and then begin to get up and come to you. But before he actually gets up, there may be something you are unknowingly doing to confuse him. If, after you put him down, you walk backwards, leaning slightly backwards as you walk, your body language will be actually encouraging the dog to get up. If, at the very moment when your dog is about to make the decision to get up, you instead lean forward and say,”DOWN!”, your body language will, in essence, be pushing the dog away. Your body language will be communicating, “stay there, don’t get up!”
If you’ve ever visited a local dog park, you will notice that when owners chase their dogs (in order to leash them and get them in the car) these dogs will inevitably run the other way. The reason for this is simply that when the owner runs toward the dog, his posture is threatening, or dominating, and thus pushes the dog further away by stimulating his flee drive.
But as any neighborhood jogger will tell you, most dogs will give chase as the jogger runs by. It is the jogger’s posture (leaning low) and running away which stimulates the chase drive. Because his posture is bent over, and he is running away from the dog, the jogger’s body language is communicating submissiveness (showing his posterior) and his body motion (jogging) stimulates the prey/chase drive.
Vocal tonation and voice inflection:
It is interesting to note that the vast majority of American Kennel Club obedience competition champions are female handlers. I feel that part of the reason for this phenomena may be that women naturally (or culturally) feel less inhibited about using different tonation when praising or correcting their dog, while men tend to simply grunt, or mumble praise under their breath. When women say, “Oh what a good, wonderful little lovey-dovey-puppy-wuppy!” in high pitched, enthusiastic tones, men tend to simply grunt, “Eh, good boy.”
I really don’t care what you say to your dog when you praise or correct him, as long as you are using high and low tones and using the same commands consistently. For example, any time your dog exhibits an unwanted behavior, you should always bark at him, “No!” in a deep, low voice that might sound something like one dog would bark at another. When praising you dog, consistently sing the same words such as, “good dog!” in a high pitched happy voice. Trust me, the dogs know the difference, and when you use a broad range of vocal tonations, it makes it one-hundred times easier for him to understand when he’s doing something right and when he’s doing something wrong.
- Positive touch:
Whenever you tell your dog, “Good girl!” or “Good boy!” make sure you attach a positive association with your praise by physically touching your dog. You probably already know better than I do what kind of physical positive touch has the most meaning for you dog. So whatever makes his tail wag, his ears fold back, his eyes go round and his tongue drop out of his mouth is what you should do to him when praising. One word of caution, however, is to make certain your praise does not interrupt the flow of your training.
- Negative touch:
A physical correction can be given to your dog in order to make him associate a negative consequence with a certain behavior. Whatever method you use to correct your dog (see section on how to give an effective correction) be sure to try to replicate as closely as possible the way a more dominant dog will correct a subordinate dog, I.E. quickly, to the point and done with before the dog on the receiving end of the correction knows what happened. It can be beneficial to watch dogs at a local park interact.
There are not too many ways to use scent as a way of communicating with your dog when doing obedience training, but you can definitely use it to help develop a more proper relationship between you and your pet. How? Simple, just spit in you dog’s food. Not a lot, just one good, “thud!” And it doesn’t matter if he sees you doing it or not. Why would you want to spit in your dog’s food? Think about it from your dog’s point of view. In the pack, which dog eats first? Right, the Alpha dog. And when the Alpha dog is finished eating, then– and only then– will the Beta dog (the next dog in the social hierarchy) begin eating.
What does the Beta dog smell and taste on whatever food is left by the Alpha dog? Saliva. And in the saliva is the the Alpha dog’s scent. In sum, there are two reasons for spitting in your dog’s food. First, because your saliva carries your scent, so in essence, you are marking the food and saying to your dog, “Here, it’s my food, but I’m letting you have some of it [because I’m the Alpha dog and you’re part of my pack].”
Secondly, when your dog eats the food and detects that you have already eaten, he thinks, “My owner has eaten first, and I’m eating after him. And since only the Alpha dog eats first, I must not be the Alpha dog. It must be you.” All this is understood, not through some kind of advanced doggie logic, but rather on an instinctive level. Of course, if spitting in your dog’s food was all anyone ever had to do to establish a proper relationship with their dog, professional dog trainers like myself would be out of a career. However, spitting in your dog’s food, combined with several other dominance-building techniques and obedience training will help to establish you as the pack leader much faster.
There are four ways in which dogs communicate. 1. Body language
2. Vocal tonation and voice inflection
Combining as many of these together as possible will produce the best results.