It’s The Way You Say It
The prime form of communication between humans is through the use of words, words spoken by means of a voice. Because words tell us so much, often the human does not always read other communication signals as well as animals do. Dogs do not use words to pass information because they cannot speak, they make sounds sometimes quite complex ones but their main way of communicating is through body and eye language, maybe even scent and mental communications. When we speak therefore to a dog it is receiving a much more complex signal than just words. In fact it is not really hearing words and understanding them as we do, but it is hearing sounds which it then learns to associate with certain actions. We attract attention with our voices, and the dog will learn to react in a particular way if we show it what to do in relation to that sound, and the voice is especially of value in an emergency when attention has to be grabbed to avoid an unpleasant situation.
By using our voices and specific words, and then linking them to the actions we require from our dog, we can train it to carry out these specific actions, or to behave in a particular way. Once the ‘commands’ or words that initiate a response are known by the dog, they become the base of other taught communications, communications passed by whistle, signal or other stimuli. A dog whistle is just a whistle and a dog does not know to come to two blasts unless it has been taught what it means. Mainly this is done by teaching the dog to come to a command or its name being called and then preceding this with whistle blasts. When the dog hears the whistle blast he knows he is going to be called and heads for the owner. Very quickly the verbal command is no longer required. Learning through association with what is already known is an excellent way of training any animal.
The meaning of the word is irrelevant except that it helps us to understand what is required and comes easily to the lips. Most important is what the dog understands by the sound of the word. It is quite easy to get a dog to sit to a variety of words even ‘Christmas’ or ‘Stand’ if it relates the action of sitting to the sound given. If you become exasperated or angry with a dog and say “come here” or “Ben here”, the tone will be telling the dog something completely different from those words. You may be thinking “Come here you little devil and everything will be OK”. the dog is thinking “If I go over there now I am in for big trouble!” The sound of your words has to have shape, it has to indicate exactly what you want and in many instances you will have to act to get the words coming out right for the reaction you require. Put the right sounds with a corresponding touch of the hands, look from the eye and position of your body and it speaks volumes.
Play with sounds around your dog and see which catch its attention and which command attention. In training avoid the excitable ones, an excitable dog looses its mind. Avoid also the sounds that bring fear, because this clears the mind of any thought or concentration and brings in panic. A dog threatening another will give low growls, and when showing pleasure will moan or whine lightly, they only go into higher volumes in fear, excitement or fighting. An angry loud voice will bring about fear, and often confusion. A voice which shows contempt and almost disgust at something wrong often brings a more controlled feeling of doing wrong from your dog. Your voice has to communicate with sounds that calm, reassure, show pleasure, show displeasure, encourage, motivate, and enthuse; and dependent upon the dog, get the result you are wanting. No two dogs are the same and a harsh sound to one may be nothing to another. I do however think that a dog has also to be shown what displeasure is. Constant nagging and threats not followed up are just background music to a dog, as is constant praise given for no reason.
If there is a rule of voice it is to use it as little as is required with as low a volume as necessary to get the required results. A quiet calm approach often brings about a quiet, calm dog. A sensible voice brings out a sensible dog. If you speak to the dog in low volumes and calmly you can always increase volume when required but if you are constantly shouting and demanding ‘sit’ or ‘here’ at the top of your voice then you have no where else to go in volume when the need arises. The other main reason for a calm voice with a low volume is that it will get your dog to pay attention and to listen harder. A dog generally has better hearing than humans, some such as the dogs with pricked ears, infinitely better. Have no doubts a dog can hear when you speak, now make them concentrate harder. Speaking low however does not automatically get them concentrating and a dogs mind will wander. So catch their attention, be in control and use words which the dog wants to hear and responds to.
Use as much as possible, words with a maximum of two syllables, and use one word per job you want your pup to do. As an example ‘Fetch’, ‘Sit’, ‘C’mon’ (two words into one). And if you like to use your dogs name then put that first to catch its attention. ‘Ben (pause) Fetch’ the emphasis should be on ‘Fetch’ and that is the last word the dog has heard. If you say ‘Fetch – Ben’ the pup hears its name last and may want to stay with you. Keep everything clear and without confusion. You can bet your bottom dollar that if confusion is possible it will happen.
As I said in the beginning the voice is only one of the communicators, so spell the message out through every channel but remember, as you have probably been told by someone else ‘It is not what you said – it was the way that you said it!’