Disclaimer: Hey, it’s America and any information you deem worthy here is applied at your own discretion. If you are new to dogs or have a dog you are unsure about please consult with a professional dog trainer before applying these concepts. These points have helped me with the many dogs in my life, so I am sharing from my personal experience.
Our connection to dogs is one of the most extraordinary cross species bonds that exist. The biggest difference is that we talk things out and dogs use body language, but we love talking to our dogs! So it may come as a bit of a shock that me—a loquacious individual is telling you that by talking less, you can become a more effective dog leader.
I highly recommend reading Patricia McConnell’s book ‘The Other End of the Leash: Why we do what we do Around Dogs. As someone that has worked with many dogs and knows a lot about them, I STILL found her insights very useful.
Here are a few highlights:
1). TURN TO THE SIDE WHEN MEETING A NEW DOG
Dog people make a lot of jokes about butt sniffing, but this inherently dog greeting behavior IS polite canine behavior. Dogs find the way humans greet one another threatening. Look at this from a dog’s perspective. Humans make eye contact and greet each other face to face. We shake hands. This is polite for humans, but a challenge to dogs. Dogs greet from the side to show other dogs they are simply saying a polite ‘Hello!’ and that they are not “Going Medieval” as my Dad likes to say.
In the cross species world of dog people and dog parks, you have probably seen people unknowingly greet new dogs by standing in front of the dog and tilting forward to say ‘Hello’. This makes since to us, but not dogs. Often we are speaking in a happy voice while extending our hand, “Hi cutie!!!”
Most well socialized dogs can handle our ineptness at understanding how dogs communicate. For some dogs, this human logic of standing straight in front and tilting forward can be a little freaky.
This advice has been helpful with one of my now elder shelter dogs. For his entire life, this basic human body posture has been a challenge for him. What helps him is simply turning to the side and sometimes (if your human greeter is willing and able!) having them squat in conjunction with the turn to the side.
This is truly one of the most helpful ways I have learned to interact with new dogs in my life, especially when photographing them. When meeting new dogs it’s extraordinary how much quicker they relate to me simply by turning to the side and squatting. I let them come to me.
2). SAY THE COMMAND ONCE
Let’s begin with SIT. When you ask your dog to perform the command sit, say it ONCE and mean it. How many times have you or someone you know done this:
“Sit Shelly. Shelly Sit. Sit. Can you sit Shelly? Can you sit for mummy?”
It’s NOT a question. If it’s a new dog, say it once and help your pup succeed. Often just a look, or a hand signal or even stepping toward your dog can effectively cause him to sit without saying it. He is reading your body language. Even if you don’t consciously use a hand signal, I notice my dogs know what I mean just by how I stand.
3). STEP INTO YOUR DOG’S SPACE
This is an easy way to show your leadership without words. Claiming space by making your dog back up is an effective way to show you are a confident leader to be respected. When the UPS truck pulls up, I step toward my big dog with hand signals and say, “Go to your bed”. He knows I am taking care of the situation and his job as receptionist is done.
4). USE YOUR ELBOW NOT YOUR HANDS This is for begging dogs at the table or those times when your dog (or dogs) are crowding your space. When a dog is being a nuisance rather than telling them to bug off USE YOUR BODY LANGUAGE INSTEAD – TAKE YOUR ELBOW OUT AND TURN YOUR BODY AWAY. This was great advice in McConnell’s book! It works!
As she states in her book, when you use your hand, you are effectively sending the message that you want to play. Think of your hand as a paw. Dogs initiate play by slapping their paw on the shoulder of another dog and doing a play bow. Your elbow communicates more than being verbal and says, “I’m not interested”.
5). CATCH YOUR DOG BEING GOOD. This is also a great way to teach your dog to come when called. If he shows up next to you, praise him. Never ask him to come if you can’t enforce it. Never call your dog to you to tell him he’s done something wrong. It should always be a positive experience. When you catch your dog being good, you help shape him into a great canine citizen. If he’s one his bed just hanging out, “Hey, good boy.”
This one is a little more advanced, but it’s a good thing when your dog looks at you (This is different than begging at the table). Praise him. Your dog is paying attention and that makes him a lot easier to train! (Of course, if it’s a border collie, he’ll be looking at you constantly, that’s what they do and perhaps part of the reason they are so trainable).
5). THE COUCH & BED Yes, you can still be a good dog leader even if you let your dog on the couch, but start off right. Don’t let your dogs take liberties by jumping on the couch or bed at their leisure. YOU MAKE this decision. Ask them to sit and wait a few moments and then let them. This is one of those latent side affects where you show your dog you are a good leader and that chaos is unacceptable. Just by enforcing this rule you will get more respect and it will affect your dog’s perception of you positively. “Hey, I guess she means that sit thing before jumping up on the couch!, Look, I’m sitting and waiting patiently!”
6). HUMANS AND THEIR ‘AMPING’ IT UP “Are you Ready to Rock?!” THING
When we use our voice—as Cesar Milan points out, with often amp up our dogs, like before a walk. Cesar did a great stand up act on this exact topic of how us humans get ready for a walk with our dog. Too often, we build up a lot of suspense!
“You wanna go for a walk!? Yea! Let’s go for a walk!” Why not just pick up the leash and quietly escort your dog out for the walk without saying anything? Sometimes we just love seeing our dogs go crazy being happy! But if you’re training a new pup, or especially a large breed dog, you want to get out of the house without it being a hyped up dance!
OLD DOGS: WHEN THE RULES DON’T COUNT
When dogs get old, I cut them a lot of slack. We currently live with exclusively geriatric dogs. With our immortal terrier, I confess to humming the Indiana Jones theme song while making his dog breakfast, just to watch him spin around the kitchen. Yes, I amp him up and I’ve SKILLYFULLY turned the Indiana Jone’s theme Song into a perfectly tuned Pavlovian response.
You gotta love your old dogs! They are great nappers, easy to live with and frequently you’ve shared years of history together! What more could you ask for in a best friend!?
Please check out Patricia McConnell’s book! It’s been a few years since I read it, but these points have stuck with me!! I hope they help you too!
In Memory of JUNE, our shelter adopted blue heeler (August 24, 2003 – July 18, 2015), we love you always and had 12 amazing years together! Prepping to pass the torch to a new heeler!