This post is prompted by my observations of dog owners and how they communicate with their dogs. As humans we talk, and we talk a lot. Overtime dogs learn to ignore most of our neverending blah-blah-blah. However if you want your dog to pay attention and do what you ask, make sure you don’t repeat these five common mistakes.
1. Repetition: “Sit! Sit! Sit!”. People tend to repeat what they have just said over and over if there was no immediate response. This is not very effective with people, and even less effective with dogs.
2. Increasing volume. People also tend to increase volume with each repetition. Unless your dog has hearing problems or there is a genuine reason to assume your dog hasn’t heard you, she has probably heard you perfectly well.
In most cases you can tell whether your dog has heard you or not. If he has, but hasn’t responded the way you want, it means one of two things: he doesn’t know what you mean or he “chose” not to respond. Now, I have put “chose” in quotation marks, because dogs don’t actually stand there and think: “Well… if I go to her I’ll get a treat, but if I stay here I get to sniff the rabbits’ poo for a few more minutes….” “Choosing” is more of a matter of how much self-control you taught your dog and how automatic his response is to your command.
3. Negatives: “No!” and “Stop!” “No pulling”, “stop jumping”, “no barking” etc. are also common variations. People tend to use a lot of “negative” or “prohibitive” words. Most dog owners use them, and I do too. And it’s OK, as long you are aware that it will not lead to any changes in your dog’s behaviour. Unless you specifically taught your dog that “no jumping” means “four paws on the floor” or that “stop” means “walk on a loose lead”, you are wasting your breath.
4. “Ah-ah!” There would be nothing wrong with this sound, if it wasn’t misused by the majority of dog owners. “Ah-ah” can be used to mark incorrect behaviour, if (and only if!) you taught your dog what it means and follow it by rewarding the correct behaviour. Unless you use it correctly, it is just another meaningless (for your dog) noise you make.
5. “Be nice!” Again, you dog doesn’t know what you mean by “nice.” I suspect that the majority of dog owners who say “Be nice!” are themselves not sure about it. So, instead of mindless repeating of meaningless noises, try this.
If there is an annoying behaviour that you want to stop, first, imagine what the ideal scenario would look like. You need to become a sort of a screenplay writer: describe what your dog is doing, what you are doing and what is going on around you. Let’s say, you dog jumps and barks at visitors. Most clients will say that they want their dog to stop doing that. But what is the dog supposed to do instead? Sit? Stand? Greet the visitor? Check with you for further directions? Once you know what your ideal “Visitors at the door” scene needs to look like, you can teach your dog to play his or her role. Dogs like to have clear rules and directions. Think about it next time you say “No!” to your dog.