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I'm a firm believer that one of the best ways to understand, guide and teach our dogs is to communicate with them in a way that speaks more to our dogs first, before ourselves.
Ever wondered how pet parents who are deaf or mute communicate with their dogs? The fact is not all of them have, want or need a service dog. This is possible because all humans communicate with others first and foremost through body language, whether we mean to or not.
But yet when it comes to new puppy pet parents, I see a lot of verbal communication used with their new pup, from very early on. And in my opinion, in most cases, it does their relationship more harm than good.
Don't get me wrong! I am all for using verbal communication to reward wanted behaviours, but when it comes to guiding and consistently training a young puppy, the more you can let your body language, your composure, your silence, your patience, and simply your presence do the talking, the clearer you'll actually end up being in your dog's eyes. It's just not what many trainers teach because it requires more work, time, and self-awareness.
But wouldn't you love it if your dog knew exactly how you'd like for them to respond when you say something to them?
Let me touch on how communication with dogs should be with this example: teaching (or rather shaping) a dog to sit.
Sit is a cue most dogs are super familiar with. But when you're teaching a puppy to sit, the way the best trainers will teach is to get you to do it without saying the word sit yet. You want to instead start with a hand gesture, usually holding a treat, wait for the behaviour as your dog begins to sit, mark & reward, repeat it a few times, and only then you can start adding the verbal cue "Sit".
This is so that the association of your dog sitting with the verbal cue is created more consistently, as opposed to if you were to say the Sit, prior to your dog knowing to do the action, and risk creating a different association. But yet when it comes to most daily exchanges we have with our dogs and our expectations of them, we generally practice things via a structure completely opposite to the one in the example of teaching a dog to Sit.
And this is where confusion and inconsistencies between what pet parents say and what their dogs respond with start happening.
So I encourage you all to practice first teaching your dog to perform the desired action without a verbal cue (do so in easy, less distracting environments first). Like using a long leash to guide your dog to come to you, and rewarding them for choosing to do so instead of calling their name multiple times when they're not likely to come.
Or making sure that you're teaching leave it, as your dog naturally learns to leave things when in front of you.
Ultimately the goal of this isn't that your dog know what every word in your vocabulary means. (Side note, the average dog can learn what up to 165 words mean!) The objective is actually to have a dog that find a lot of value in your voice, more than anything, because it's a tool of communication you use as they're first learning what something clearly means through your body language.
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