Communication

I often get the question, "How are you going to communicate with our dog?"  It turns out that people are often afraid of what 'communication' means.  I usually laugh and remind people that it is nothing short of what works.  That gets a puzzled look most times, but also affords a moment of silence.  I am a huge proponent of effective communication.  I don't yell at dogs or hit dogs - many of my clients will admit to having yelled at their dog or even swatted them with a newspaper.  Some have even resorted to spray bottles filled with water and vinegar.  I would be remiss if I left out the occasional client who says they have never even told their dog NO.

On the flip side, there is the client that believes treats are evil and unnecessary, while others lavish treats on their dog in order to get them to perform a simple behavior, even if only for a moment.

So, what does communication look like to me?  Whatever works.  If your dog does not listen to your urging that it should not do something and you have told it several times, I would suggest that you are nagging your dog and it is ignoring you.  Conversely, if you need a high value treat to get your dog to look at you and to sit for a moment, I believe you are not an effective communicator.  Sometimes I will use treats to get a dog to do a behavior - sometimes a toy - always praise.  Rather than repeatedly tell your dog NO as if it inherently understands the word (which it obviously does not), I might increase from verbal to a leash correction.  If a leash correction does not effectively communicate the meaning, I might choose a different tool from the tool box that will help the dog understand what I mean.

I will also adjust the training area - adapting to the dog's natural, primal learning ability.  I might walk stairs and abruptly stop with a dog who pulls or doesn't pay attention.  I have better balance on the stairs than the dog does, which commits the dog to respecting me and trusting me with its welfare.  When a dog trusts me, it will seek affirmation for its behavior.  Being a good communicator means you must figure out what method works best; dogs, like people are not all the same.