When you communicate with your dog without talking, this builds a bond as you’ve never experienced before. Dog’s don’t read, and they aren’t born speaking English. Mammals are not born understanding the rules of safety nor do we use words to communicate right away. Just as we don’t expect a young infant to completely understand what we are saying with words, we can’t expect the same from animals right away. It’s the tone of our voice or touch, it’s the look or even just your presence. It’s not always what you say, it’s what you DO.

1. Most dogs don’t understand reasoning or explaining

When a dog comes into our lives, we somehow expect either the new puppy or adopted dog to immediately understand our world and the rules the come with it. Many times, pet parents are expecting a dog to understand our human language – a language that we use to communicate in our existence. 

More importantly, we expect dogs to understand the actual words that we are saying, even when we use 10 -20 words at a time! Dogs know when we are happy, sad or upset based on our tones, our body language and yes, quite a few “words.” As a matter of fact, Scientists have determined that dogs can learn up to 160 of our human words. This is quite an incredible finding.  Although, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog will understand why you are so upset about his incessant barking while jumping at the window.  It also won’t mean that your dog will listen when you are outside calling after him to come home after running out the door, especially when he just scurried past the open door of your fence where all the good stuff exists. We can’t reason with dogs using words that coerce or explain the rules in your home.

2. Yelling at a dog is like shouting at a baby

Researchers and scientists have determined that some dogs have the intelligence level of a human toddler around the age of 2 years. This may help to put some things into perspective. If a toddler was to have an “accident,” I can’t imagine an adult thinking that the most effective way to toilet train would be to yell at or scold the baby for better results next time. So, why then would we think that method of communication would be the most effective way to potty train a dog? 

3. Words can have a profound effect

Communication. In our daily existence, we can say things with words that are hurtful to one another. Or we can choose to say things that are profound, loving or perhaps educational and inspiring. There is an endless list of things we can say and ways we can express those words.  Sometimes, words are spoken that you just can’t take back. This exchange of words can have a profound effect on someone. Conversely, you can say things that are loving and those touching words are never to be forgotten. The old saying of, “it isn’t what you say, it’s what you do,” can apply when communicating as well. How we interact isn’t about words all the time, sometimes it’s a look, a gesture, a wave, a touch. 

People who understand animals get this. People who can “talk” to dogs, we never forget. We always remember to recognize our body language along with our words. We are constantly aware of our posture, eye contact, body placement, and hand movements, almost more so than concentrating on what we are saying – with words. When people think that dog teachers or caregivers have a gift, I like to think we have the gift of being conscious. Conscious of our actions just as much as, if not more so, than our words. 

4. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.

The thing is, dogs may be domesticated and “smarter” in a human world, than a lion or a squirrel, but that does not mean that they can reason like a human. Some dogs may be able to put together a certain amount of words and understand what it is we are saying, but some may not. Some people may be able to communicate with their dogs in a way that helps them understand each other, but some do not. When you add the element of non-verbal communication, this to me, is what it’s all about.

Effectively teaching and bonding with dogs is so much more than words. I don’t think I have a gift of being able to communicate with dogs any more than anyone else could. It’s a matter of being aware. Making sure to be aware of your body language, just as much as your spoken words. 

When your dog is barking out the window, shouting at or reasoning with your dog won’t work. When the door to the fence is left open you won’t be able to have a talk when the dog decides to come back home or when you are finally able to catch him. When you find an accident on the floor, just clean it up. Explaining why you are upset because the carpet is stinky and now you’re late for your appointment will mean nothing and certainly will not prevent or treat these problem behaviors from happening again. The dog knows you are upset, it’s pretty obvious because your eyebrows are crunched, you might be hunched over, your voice is louder and the fist shaking is a dead give-away. Although the act of taking off, barking out the window, and pooping on the floor was still fun or rewarding in some way, so you’re carrying on just typically won’t make a difference. Dog’s repeat what is rewarded, but that’s a whole different blog topic!

5. Have the gift without the “gab.”

When a human can “speak” without words? That is just beautiful to me. When a dog understands and learns? Now that’s the gift. 

About the Author Christine Fox, APDT, CTDI and a Pet Sitters International member, is the founder of Wag ‘N’ Tails Dog Activity Center with two locations in Michigan. She has been involved with many pet dog trainer certification initiatives, all based on learning techniques that involve humane practices and the latest in scientific research. Christine also raised a service dog for Paws With a Cause and plans to train her newest pup in therapy work. Through her work with dogs and their parents, Christine has developed many happy and healthy relationships with both humans and dogs in the community.

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