Dog Speak

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Ever noticed that most of the time when you have a disagreement with someone it is largely due to a miscommunication? It turns out that most of the problems we have with our dogs are also due to miscommunication. Surpsingly enough, the miscommunication is on our side, not theirs. Since dogs don’t speak English, they behave best if we communicate with them in a way they understand and they understand, Dog.

I want to share a couple of things we learned from Be the Pack Leader by Cesar Milan about Laddie (aka Gray Beard or Ladster Badster in our house) and Dixie (sometimes referred to as The White Fawn or Mythical Creature). Hope these gems might help you as well.

One, speaking Dog meant I had to realize that dogs communicate with body language or energy – intense staring, tail wagging (and just because your dog’s tail is wagging does not mean she is happy), and other things like the play bow. They do not speak English. When we speak to dogs with our voice it’s like watching a Charlie Brown cartoon for us and trying to understand what the teacher is saying.

Dogs can be taught commands: sit, stay, down, off, roll-over. However, the dog learns those commands at first from watching you, not necessarily from listening to you. This really comes home for me when Dixie looks at me and tilts her head one direction. I want to take a picture every time because it is so cute. What I see now though when Dixie does it is not only a photo opportunity but an indication that she is really looking at me and trying to understand what I want.

Two, I have to be a calm, assertive pack leader. Dogs are pack animals and there is a leader in a pack that is calm and assertive. As an example, Dixie will sometimes not “come” at the park – she needs more training. Unfortunately, because I have not worked enough with her on “come” at the dog park, I start to get annoyed. So, now not only does the dog not come because there has not been enough training (my fault), she doesn’t come because she can tell I am upset (again, my fault).

If she could speak and rationalize, I always imagine she would say something like, “Why do I want to go over there by you? You look mad. The party is much more fun over here where I can eat this yummy thing on the ground and then roll in the smell it left behind!” Dogs follow only calm, assertive pack leaders. Until I exhibit that, I do not get a positive response.

Three, exercise! Since Laddie and Dixie are not Shih Tzus, they were not bred to lay leisurely in my lap or on the floor at my feet at all times of the day. Laddie was bred to be a ratter. Dixie, goodness knows, but we have seen her point and she would LOVE to get a hold of a squirrel or the stray cats that wander into our yard. Remedy – give them a job.

It is in their DNA to do something. They need a purpose. So, now Laddie and Dixie are walked twice a day. I know this seems like a lot and it is indeed a time commitment. However, a tired dog is one that barks less, does not pace and no longer digs holes in the back yard.

Four, the dogs need to walk beside or behind us and never in front. This translates into taking the dog for a walk instead of being taken for a walk. This was difficult with Dixie because, though she is only 40 lbs, she is a powerful dog. So, I now do what they do in dog shows. I keep her leash up around her neck right behind her ears. Take your leash and put the snap end through the handle on the end of the leash. You now have a loop that you can put over your dog’s head. When she tries to bolt after something, I simply pull up. Her attention is redirected away from whatever distracted her. If she starts to walk in front of me, I pull up.

Now, I don’t mean that I string the dog up in the air. I simply lift until her gaze is redirected, release, and if she looks back at the distraction again, then I pull up again until her gaze is redirected. Repeat this enough and dogs eventually learn that not only is it their job to walk with you but also to stay focused.

*If y’all are wondering about this terrible, green-colored back-pack Dixie wears, it is to help with training. We put water bottles, toys and I may have even put a couple of Taters in it at one point. The weight and different weigh distributions help to keep her focused and work off more of her energy. As to the awful color, it was on sale for eight bucks. I couldn’t pass it up.

I leave you with this picture of the dogs when Laddie was still big enough to boss Dixie around and these final thoughts:

  • Experts say that anywhere from 60% to 93% of our communications with each other as people are non-verbal.
  • How do you feel when you don’t have enough exercise and do not have a purpose?
  • Do you like to follow people who are angry or do you respond better to calm, assertive leadership?
  • When do you concentrate better on your work? With distractions or when you are focused?

Perhaps we are more capable of speaking Dog than we think.

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