The Importance of Communication – Brooklyn Dog Training
One of the biggest issues I find when I first begin working with a new client is that they are a bit unclear about how they say “yes” and “no” to their dog. Dog training and changing dog behavior isn’t rocket science, but it does require one specific thing: communication. Half the battle is finding a clear way to communicate “yes,” and a clear way to communicate “no.” The other half is doing that consistently! I always begin my Brooklyn Dog Training program with a comprehensive behavior consultation, and one of the things I’ll look for is the communication that’s going on between a dog and his/her owners.
Variety is the spice of… confusion!
In the process of raising a dog, we have the tendency to develop our own little lingo. Most people develop a vocabulary of sounds and words that really only applies to their dog. Sounds like “uh-uh”, “shh!”, or “ahh!” are common. A new client once said to me “it’s like we have our own secret language that no one else understands.” While your dog may understand your secret language somewhat, the reality is that it’s more confusing than clear. If it was totally clear, you wouldn’t need a dog trainer!
During my Brooklyn Dog Training program, when we begin working together, I give both you and your dog the benefit of the doubt and start from scratch. We eliminate any secret languages and instead opt for just one way to say “yes” and one way to say “no”. This eliminates any confusion your dog may have been experiencing in your attempts to communicate with him. It also eliminates your own confusion. You have enough to think about, so having only one option for both yes and one option for no makes it easier on you, too.
Make it crystal clear
When we pick out these yes’s and no’s, we don’t just choose any old thing. We aim to chose the option that’s going to be clearest for your dog. For example, verbal praise is a great way to encourage a desired behavior, but there are hundreds of ways to verbally praise your dog. There are many combinations of words and tones you can use. Most frequently, I use “good girl!” or “good boy!” in a light, but not squeaky tone. I don’t put too much of a sing-song tone to it, but I’m careful to make sure it’s a pleasant, upbeat voice. It’s important that your dog knows that you like what he/she just did. Sometimes we fall into the habit of casually saying “good girl” without much emphasis. Don’t get caught in that trap! Say yes when you mean yes.
As for no, I stick with the traditional word “no”. Many dog trainers employ special words and sounds in an effort to start fresh, assuming that the word “no” has become so polluted and overused that it’s unclear to the dog. I haven’t found this to be necessary, so long as we stick to our exclusive use of the word no. This is often the hardest part: exclusively using the word no! When our dog begins to make a poor behavior choice, we have the tendency use their name in a sharp tone, or put in a sound like “ah-ah!” before we actually say no. Again though, this is confusing for your dog. To be fair to your dog, say no when you mean no. Leave the rest out.
Now keep it going!
There is one final piece to the puzzle. In fact, this piece is the key to your success. Without it, your efforts will be wasted. You now know how to communicate to your dog clearly, but for this to be of any value, you need to do it consistently. Don’t give up! Don’t revert back to old habits, or start Googling for new ones. Every dog is different; some dogs get it right away, and other dogs take some time. All dogs “turn the corner” so to speak, but for some it’s just a matter of when. Your job is to stay the course.
By and large, the most common mistake I see dog owners make is inconsistency. Something appears not to be working, and so they abandon ship – back to Google! They hunt around for another solution and try that. That solution doesn’t immediately work either, and so it’s on to the next solution. We all seem to be subconsciously searching for the quick fix we desperately crave. We just want the behavior problem to be OVER, and when something doesn’t immediately provide the result we were hoping for, we abandon ship.
The truth is, regardless of what you’re trying, if you don’t do it consistently, it’s not going to work. Ever!
There’s another angle of consistency to consider. I’ve seen many owners try a method or approach, see results, and then become frustrated that the desired behavior takes work to maintain. It’s as if we want to check out of this project once we see some progress. Generally speaking, there’s nothing you can do to, for, or with your dog that’s going to change his/her behavior. Behavior change is about consistently providing feedback to your dog’s choices. When applied consistently over time, your dog begins to make better choices, but this entire process relies on your guidance! If you check out, your dog no longer has that feedback coming, and the process of behavior change is interrupted.
If you’re struggling with your dog’s behavior issues, take a look at how you’re communicating with your dog. How do you say yes? How do you say no? Are you sticking with it, or do you keep mixing it up? Are you constantly in search of something new?
There’s nothing wrong with needing a little help with this either. That’s why there are dog training professionals! I am a professional dog trainer and dog behaviorist, and I can help you reach your goals. If you’re looking for Brooklyn Dog Training, email me today, or call 800.649.7297.