It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on how smart your dog is or isn’t at learning. Your dog is probably astoundingly smarter than you think. You just need to start communicating with it in a language that it understands.
Imagine if I expected all my clients to learn from me while I only spoke in Danish! Would you want to come to my classes to learn if I scolded you for not understanding me? And wouldn’t it be crazy, since we both speak English?
Of course, neither English nor Danish will ever serve as effective ways to communicate with your dog. Dogs are not even born with the concept of a verbal language. Instead, they have a very well-evolved body language. This makes them incredibly perceptive to changes of mood and energy. Humans have both, but because it is so easy to communicate with words, we often neglect to use our body language and intuitive perception.
Dogs can learn a few words, but it is as hard for them to learn words as it is for us to distinguish exactly what each type of bark means. Please note, a bark is not a word; it is an expression of the state of mind: impatient, hostile, over-excited etc.
Since both humans and dogs understand body language, it makes perfect sense to use it when we communicate with them. In fact, our body languages are very similar. The only difference is that the dogs’ body language is simpler than ours yet also more extreme.
As an example, when you scold a person, they may lower their head and look away. However, a dog’s reaction will be more extreme. As well as lowering its head and looking away, it may also crouch right down towards the ground and put its ears back while squinting.
There are fewer nuances in the canine language. The dog’s reaction above could mean several things such as submission, begging, trying to get away with disobeying an order (fake submission), cowering and even just a submissive dog’s standard greeting. In a dog’s mind, they are all the same one thing: appeasement.
Using the right language is a great first step to getting the desired responses from your dog. I suggest you start by focusing on how you can communicate in a way clear and easy to recognise manner. Start with commands like stop,
stay outside the kitchen, and come. A quick way to get yourself thinking correctly is to imagine that your dog is a deaf person. You will amaze yourself with your own creativity and range of signs/ body language expressions that emerge.
Check out my quick video of instructing Meg, a 12 weeks old Cavoodle, without using any words at all. She performed the sit-stay-come-stop half way-sit-and-come perfectly in our very first go, simply because the instructions were clear to her:
If your dog isn’t paying you enough attention to read the signing, then you need to consider if it is motivated enough. Most parents would know that their problem is seldom about the child’s understanding, but instead about respect and willingness to cooperate. For gaining the right attitude from your dog, please check out our page about the Canine Code.