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March 26, 2012

What are you asking your dog?

I'm always surprised at how regular people talk to their dogs. Recently I saw a video of  a woman who was asking her dog if he wanted to go for a walk. Then she complained when the dog "didn't want" to go for the walk. Um. Are you kidding me?
The only thing we ask Zander is if he knows how handsome he is. Isn't he fabulous?

Sometimes folks ask me for dog training tips. Here's an easy one for you, don't ask our dog what he wants - tell him what you want him to do. If you are having trouble with your dog, it could be the way you are talking to him. Remember that your dog is looking to you to lead the pack.  You can read all about it in Be the Pack Leader: Use Cesar's Way to Transform Your Dog . . . and Your Life. The big idea is that you, not the dog, need to be in charge. Part of being in charge is providing instruction. Part of providing instruction is to do it in a clear, confident, strong voice.

One of the things people like best about dogs is that they seem to understand us.  But they probably aren't listening to the words we are using- except for, your know, "Hey here are some snacks", "Dinner time", and "Look! Chicken hearts!" I'm pretty sure much of what dogs "hear" from us has more to do with the tone of our voice, our accompanying body language, and other non verbal communication. The more I work with our dogs to teach them non-verbal commands, the more obvious this is to me.

Zander is still a big goof. At a little over six months old, we forget he's still a baby.

I'm naturally bossy so I've never had a problem with telling the dogs what to do. So when I see people who have problems with their dog following commands my question is, are you asking that dog or telling him? Does your voice go up at the end like you are asking a question? Are you speaking firmly and with authority? Are you looking at the dog directly? What words are you using?

Passed out after a hard day of doing evil deeds. Check out how big he is!

Anyone who's worked with the general public on the phone knows that if a call gets out of hand the best thing to do is to physically stand up. Even tho the person can't see you your posture and tone will change and this comes thru in your voice. Similarily, sales people are taught to smile even if they are on the phone. The person on the other end will "hear" this change in the salesperson's voice and have a more pleasant experience.

You can use this same kind of "trick" with your dog. Stand up tall, use a deeper version of your speaking voice, pretend you are the king and the dogs are your loyal subjects. Use this newly imagined royal authority to issue proclamations. Your dog will see these kind of changes when you issue commands and respond to them.

If you say in a mild, questioning voice, "Well Mr. Woofy-woof, do you wanna go for a walk?" Your dog will probably just ignore you or maybe roll over in his dog bed. But if you say firmly, "Lets go! We are going for a walk!" He'll probably get up and follow you to the door.

This isn't to say that you should stand there and scream at your dog. If you've ever seen an out of control parent yelling at their kid, you know that approach will only work for so long. But if you've ever seen a parent lean over to a naughty child, and say firmly and just under their breath, "I'm telling you to stop that right now"  - then you know what I'm talking about. There is a difference between berating your dog (or your kid) and getting his attention.

And you don't have to bark orders at your dog all the time. We use plenty of friendly, animated talk with our dogs. And lots of snuggly-wuggly-I-wuv-you's... But not when we are working or if I need them to do something. Using a different tone in your voice between "work" and "play" will help your dog tell the difference between the two. If your dog knows the difference he will be more effective in helping you.

How you behave physically also makes a difference to your dog. Are you self assure and confidant? Does your physical bearing command respect? Do you stride boldly? Or do you meekly make your way around? Do you let your dog push you out of the way at the door or pull you when on a leash? If that's the case you need to stop it right now. You can't have the tail wagging the dog and expect good results. If your dog is wagging you then you need to run right out and find a good dog trainer. Actually you need a people trainer to teach YOU how to be in command of that dog.

Obedience in dogs is probably more about the owner then it is with the dog. Dogs want a job, they want to help, and they want you to be the leader. As the owner you need to show the dog you are a good leader by being confident in the way you talk to your dog.

Smart dogs, given the chance, we start making their own decisions. If they don't have a clear sense of who's the boss they will assume its themselves, not you. Speaking to your dog and issuing commands in a strong voice will reinforce your position as the leader.

So what do you think? Is your dog wagging you? Are you the boss of your dog? What are you doing - or not doing - that is causing success or failure with your hard workin' farm dog?

Happy Monday everyone! Now get out there and be the boss of your dog!