The reality with dogs is that they don’t speak English. They don’t speak French or Latin or Spanish. Dogs are associators. Dogs learn to associate human words with actions and events and therefore you can absolutely communicate effectively and clearly with your dog - both verbally and non-verbally.
Below, we’ll discuss how to be effective with both.
Saying “food” to a dog is meaningless without the sound of the food hitting the bowl and the association of food being there when the dog comes running to the bowl. With repetition, the dog can learn that when it hears the word “food,” it’s about to get fed.
So to teach the dog the word food you’ve had to:
- Say the word “food” time and time again, day after day
- Let the dog audibly hear food hitting its bowl, day after day
- Provide the dog with food each time it visits the bowl, day after day
In gun dog training, dogs learn that the action of shouldering a firearm means a loud gun shot is coming and a bird that the dog gets to fetch will fall out of the sky. It learns that if it hears “take ‘em” the entire process is about to begin. So, the dog perks up and looks skyward when it hears “take ‘em!”
Does it truly know what “take ‘em” means? No. But can “take ‘em” followed by shouldering your firearm be an effective way to get your dog to perk up and look skyward? Absolutely.
Dogs wag their tails, jump up and down, sniff other dogs, pin their ears back and give off a variety of other body language signals to communicate their feelings and mood. Since its so natural to a dog, nonverbal communication can be the quickest, smoothest way to “speak” to your puppy.
The key is to be explicit and obvious with your commands. If you want your dog to cast left, stick your arm out to the left, show your palm and five fingers and walk left. You’re making it clear where you want your dog to go. When it goes left, there should be a bird laying or floating there. It begins to associate a prize with your action and with repetition, learns to listen.
The reality of communicating with a dog is that the perfect blend of both verbal and nonverbal communication is the most effective way to teach your dog to “speak” the same language as you. When you blend the right words, with the right deliberate body language cues, you’ll get the right result from your dog.