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3 Simple Ways To Improve Communication With Your Dog (And Why You Should Use Them!)

Holly Leake
Communication is the foundation of every relationship. It is how we learn, how we express emotion and how we form attachments with others. When the lines of communication breakdown, relationships can become strained and even broken. Why? When we fail to communicate, we can begin to assume how someone is feeling or be misunderstood ourselves, and this can lead to conflict.

 Unfortunately, this a common occurrence with dogs because their communication is often misunderstood or inadvertently ignored, due to a lack of knowledge of how they learn and communicate. Since communication is just as important with our dog as any other relationship, it's vital to learn how we can improve our communication. This blog is going to consider 3 simple ways to improve communication with our dog, as well as the benefits

Our Tone of Voice! 

“We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed, is unsympathetic to us.”
- Friedrich Neitzsche
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of our tone, when we communicate with our dog, and yet we are so sensitive to tone ourselves. When someone speaks to us in a stern or aggressive tone, it can really upset or annoy us. Everyone remembers that one schoolteacher that used to terrify them, but more often than not, we don’t remember what they were actually trying to teach us.

We can’t effectively learn when we are spoken to in a stern or threatening tone and neither can dogs. Dog training tv shows, created solely for entertainment and not education, often depict training as rigid and aggressive. Communication with dogs is labelled as commands, which frankly, moves many dog guardians to be aggressive in their approach, until they achieve so called “compliance”.

Training should be kind and fun for our dog; therefore we use cues instead of commands. However, cues are not a means to exert control over our dog, rather it is a means to effectively communicate what we want them to do. We are not demanding the behaviour, we are kindly asking for it and if we use a pleasant tone and provide exciting rewards, our dog will more than happily respond to our communication.

Understanding Body Language

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
- George Bernard Shaw
When we misinterpret what our dog is trying to communicate, our response is often dependent on false preconceptions of our dog’s emotions, which can move some to punish their dogs unfairly.

For instance, if we mistake anxious behaviour for guilt, we may punish our dog because we believe they must understand that they have done something wrong.

Whereas if we recognise that our dog was actually feeling anxious and not guilty, we will likely consider what has truly triggered the behaviour and whether there is anything we can do to alleviate the problem. For example, in this situation our dog may be chewing things because he’s anxious to be left alone and when we return and punish him, he begins to anticipate punishment every time we come home, thereby triggering anxious body language.

Therefore, understanding the true meaning of our dog’s body language is key to recognising how they are feeling. When we understand their genuine feelings, we can respond appropriately and our dog will receive the understanding and support they need.

Using Body Language 

"Communication is only effective when we communicate in a way that is meaningful to the recipient, not ourselves"
- Rich Simmonds
Many can become exasperated with their dog, when they feel they have clearly communicated something and their dog doesn’t respond as expected. The trouble often lies with communicating in a language that dogs just aren’t familiar with. As humans, we mostly use verbal communication, however, dogs rarely use this and rely mostly on body language. Despite this fact, very few guardians understand canine body language, hence they don’t use much body language themselves.

When we start learning how our dogs use their body language to communicate, we can reciprocate by also using body language. Using hand signals to teach specific cues, makes your communication really clear to your dog and you will find they respond much quicker and more reliably, in comparison to when you use verbal cues alone.

Also, when we understand what body language dogs find threatening, we can alter our posture and body language to one that puts our dog at ease. For instance, instead of leaning over a dog and staring directly at them, (something dogs find very threatening) we can turn our body to the side and look away from them often. This body language is just two examples of calming signals, which are used by dogs to communicate positive intent and/or diffuse any tension. Using such calming signals can be a really positive way to communicate with our dog and ensure they are comfortable during the interaction.

So when you communicate with your dog, remember to…

  • Do your utmost to use an enthusiastic and kind tone.
  • Educate yourself regarding your dog’s body language and what his/her signals mean.
  • Use the language your dog understands by using less words and more positive body language.

By doing so, you will ensure that the lines of communication stay open and clear, which is critical in keeping your relationship with your dog strong.

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