Training isn’t just about teaching a dog specific commands. It’s also about teaching you and your dog to communicate with each other in the same language. When you and your dog are speaking the same language, you reduce the potential for misinterpreting each other and making the wrong decisions in dicey situations.
Dogs are all about energy and body language. It is to them what eye contact and vocal nuance is to us humans. It is also what tells them whether they can trust us in any situation – especially, in situations where another dog is involved. Our dogs love us, but that doesn’t mean they automatically trust us. Love and trust are two very different things. So, how does language connect to training? Here are two scenarios that might help you understand.
Scenario #1: You’re walking your dog. The dog is pulling hard, weaving here and there. You get frustrated, and your shoulder is starting to ache because the dog is pulling so hard. You tighten your grip on his leash to try and slow him down; you raise your voice – you might even swear – but the dog pulls even harder. Some people pass by with their dogs, your dog sees them, and he goes off the rails, lunging and barking. Your frustration and tension increases, and the cycle repeats. By the time you get home, you’re so frustrated and pissed off that you tell the family, “This dog goes, or I go.”
Scenario #2: You’re walking your dog. You’re calm and relaxed; the dog is walking nicely, sniffing here and there but not pulling, the leash is loose and relaxed. Some people pass by with their dogs, your dog sees them, and then ignores them. He’s just chillin’, like, “Meh. Whatever.” When you get home, you and your dog are happy. You might even give him a cookie and tell him he’s a good boy.
In the first scenario, the language you’ve used with your dog is tension and frustration: Tightened grip on the leash, tense body, raised voice. Your dog answered you in that language: he became frustrated, tense, uncertain, untrusting of you.
In the second scenario, the language you used was calmness and relaxation. Your dog answered you in that language: He relaxed, he stayed calm, he looked to you for direction when the other people with their dogs passed by.
When you need to know how you’re really feeling in any given moment, watch your dog. If you’re angry or frustrated or otherwise feeling tense and negative, your dog will tell you by acting out in some way. It’s how they tell us, “Hey, dude. Calm down! You’re freakin’ me out, here!” In training, the same rule of energy and body language applies: Calmness says, “Relax. I’ve got this.” Tension and frustration says, “I’m unstable. Don’t trust me.”
It’s a lot to take in. I get that. And this is just the tip of this particular iceberg. But it’s a place for you to at least start looking at the language you’re unconsciously using with your dog. Once you start to become more aware of your own state of being, you’ll start noticing that your dog is responding differently. And, as always, if you need help, find a trainer to help you.
Have a great day, and remember to stay calm and lead on. 🙂