Contributed by: erik Wednesday, December 09 2020 @ 04:24 pm EST
COMMUNICAING WITH YOUR NEW DOG
BY ERIK HOFFER TALKING TO YOUR DOG
From what I know about dogs, they do not speak our language. It’s not that they don’t have their own language but until they learn ours, they primarily use theirs. We can learn their language a bit quicker then they can learn ours, so it becomes important for us to plan how we can communicate with them as soon after getting a pet as possible.
Barks from a dog you know are very distinctive. The play high pitch bark, the nagging ‘play with me’ bark, the alert strong shep bark and a myriad of other whines and yips that we all hear that have meaning to us when we know the dog. Barks combined with facial expressions, play bows, nose wipes and different postures truly effectively allow the dog to be understood. Of course when you don’t know an animal these communication tools are far less effective. When the animal knows its name and you begin to attempt communication, the dog will generally understand kindness, sociability, touch and some levels of positive interaction. More than likely he hears blah blah “Fluffy” and takes more from your facial expressions and tonal inflection and voice pitch, than from any word that you say.
Your pet may in fact speak another language based on where he come from. We get quite a few shepherds that have been taught in German and Spanish so transitioning them to English is a process. Dogs are smart and they associate kindness and a desire to please you with an open mind to learn what we are tying to communicate. When verbal commands are understood and combined with hand signal commands, your pet has made a quantum leap into being all he can be. The big question is how do you go about starting that process in such a manner that Fluffy gets what you are saying and complies?
The first time you meet your new rescue pet, assuming that the pet is social and the meeting is orchestrated appropriately, Fluffy will only see you as a stranger. Petting him, speaking softly, standing up straight, not being overwhelming or obnoxious, combined with a treat or two, usually established a reasonable first encounter. You dog is probably overwhelmed, probably over stimulated by the situation and typically unsure of what to expect. Dealing with the dog in a positive manner, with treats and petting usually wins the day. In all of this there has been some basic form of subtle communication between you both but you in no way have you both begun to completely understand one another. Kindness in rescue meetings does go a long way to establish a friendship, but in order to develop respect and a higher level of communication and obedience, you need to map out a training program that enhance the communication between you both to point where the dog can understand and comply with your commands.
Such communication need not be harsh nor involve physical punishment or screaming, but rather a soft consistent positive based approach, of coursed based on the dogs temperament, responsiveness and drive, to get his attention. A GSD may need a completely different approach than a Golden Retriever or a Border Collie. Every breed and every temperament within that breed (not eliminating gender) can exist, so making a plan based on what the dog requires to learn is the best way to succeed. Many dogs are alpha themselves and to structure a plan for a strong willed dog is far more complex than for a soft dog.
Since Fluffy has no idea what you are saying, outside his name, (if he already knows that) screaming commands rarely works. It is just like meeting a person from another country who has no idea what we are saying; screaming “hello” is not going to make him understand. Communication can come easy or be tremendously difficult, pet dependent, so where do you start?
My suggestion is to always begin the relationship by cutting up a hot dog in ¼ inch cubes and having a meeting in your living room where each family member calls Fluffy’s name and rewards him when he comes to your hand. By doing this he hears your happy voice, gets rewarded for responding, gets pets and reinforcement of his name from your voice and gets a chance to look into your eyes when he gets a treat for coming to his name. This works well in teaching a new name to the dog. I call the technique the “name game” and it works in about 30 minutes. By seeing and hearing you and being rewarded for the response, you have established to first step in communicating with the dog.
Communication comes in many forms. It doesn’t always have to be a command to be followed. It may be just a cuddle, a wet nose in your lap or a pat on the head. Each action between you and your dog is a communication event.
Training is the most intense form of communication as it requires an understanding of both parties. If Fluffy has no idea what you want him to do then you are both going to be standing there with no chance of compliance.
Dogs read your eyes, your heartbeat, your facial expressions, your voice level and tone and its inflections and they interpret these sounds in their own way. It is up to us to make sure the interpretation is appropriate. Short of these non physical interactions your dog needs to learn how to receive a correction on the leash. This must be done in such a manner as to allow the dog to understand what it is you want. Combining a leash correction with a treat or praise completes the event and usually gets a result. Channeling that result by repetitive consistent commands, allows the behavior to be understood and enables you and the dog to repeat it. The longer you do the command the less effort it will take to get the result. Once these leash corrections are understood, you can compliment that particular action with a hand signal which will have the same meaning thereby transitioning the communication from verbal (physical) non verbal and visual.
Leash corrections are only effective if Fluffy get’s the gist of what you want. At first using a pinch or prong collar helps establish that the correction is, in effect, a correction and not just a jerk of his neck. Dogs were corrected by their mother by placing her mouth (teeth) on the dogs neck. These nerves in the dogs neck are sensitive and elicit a response because that is how the dog was corrected or moved by his mother in the whelping pen. Use of a straight collar rarely at first establishes that communication. The use of a choke collar (which we never use) yanks the dogs larynx in such a harsh manner as to do physical harm. It effectively put his weight and strength against yours and does no good in communicating anything. Dogs who yank you on a chocker collar can severely hurt themselves and put you in a face plant if you don’t suspect the sudden jerk of the leash. A prong or pinch collar is specifically designed to stimulate these neck nerves in such a manner that the slightest upward pull on the lead immediately and effectively communicates with the dog. Dogs on pinch collars do not pull because the lead establishes a signal to stop where a standard collar or choker does not. By beginning with a slight upward jerk of the prong collar communication can begin. Once that communication method has been established, moving to a Martingale collar is the next step.
At times you may need to enhance the correction with a physical interaction. As an example, if the dog fails to sit (the easiest command) touching his rear gently while pulling gently on the leash in an upward motion and treating him immediately after he sits (while saying the sit command) will generally get the desired result. Pushing the treat more toward his face while doing this also forces him to sit. There can be quite a lot going on when establishing a command and response. The more the dog respects you and wishes to please you, the easier the task becomes. Communication however must take place whether through the leash correction, a verbal reinforcement or a positive voice and treat when the action is completed as desired. Training only happens when the function can be repeated seamlessly.
The more the dog gets to know you and the better the reinforcement of the task is done, the less the need for special collars or physical corrections. This is always dog dependent and no one size training solutions fits all dogs. If the dog respects you especially in a GSD, the more he will want to please you. The more positive the interaction between you and the dog when he pleases you, the faster and more intense the bond and the faster the learning curve to future training issues.