In This Chapter
- Using your body posture, eye contact, and signals to direct your dog.
- Bonding with your dog through silence and serenity
If your goal is to share your life with a dog who enjoys minding you and prioritizes your opinion, you can influence your dog’s behavior in many ways — all without saying a word.
Humans and dogs differ in communication style. People talk and talk and talk. We learn by listening. Dogs, on the other hand, learn by watching, taking direction by mirroring, and looking to others. Because your dog can’t internalize your life experience, it’s your responsibility to translate your message into a medium that she can understand and relate to. In other words, be quiet and start communicating silently.
Your dog is clever, and she likes to interact and communicate with you. Your vocal responses, however, aren’t an ideal indicator of your attention because you talk all day long. From her perspective, your eye contact is the surest determinant: eye contact, negative or positive, ensures your interaction.
If you’re looking at your dog, she’ll repeat the behavior that succeeded in getting your attention, again, 100 percent guaranteed.
Eye contact is so important that it influences your dog’s behavior throughout the day. The following list shows you how simple eye contact acknowledgement influences your dog’s behavior throughout the day:
- Jumping: If you look at your dog when he jumps, he’ll jump again. In fact, the main reason your dog is jumping is to see whether he can get your attention. Whether you look at him when you’re greeting him or when he approaches you while you’re relaxing in your home, make sure that he has all four paws on the floor before you say hello.
- Mealtime etiquette: If you look at your dog while you’re eating, you’re inviting her to the feast. Is it any wonder that your dog can find the one person willing to share and park herself next to that chair? Better to feed your dog first, offer her a bed to rest in and a toy to chew, and encourage everyone to keep their eyes off the dog.
- Barking: If you look at your dog the instant she barks, guess what? You’ll get a repeat performance. If you want a quiet dog, focus on your dog when she’s quiet.
- Walking manners: Your leash walking goal is that your dog follows you on a loose leash and looks to you before responding to distractions in your environment. If you’re following her, in her opinion, you’re looking to her to interpret life experience.
- Door manners: Your door is the mouth of your den; whoever orchestrates this vital entranceway is the leader. If you’re standing behind your dog as you exit or you’re greeting friends in her shadow, then guess what? In your dog’s mind, you’re looking to her to lead. Your life will run smoother when you teach your dog the direction “Back” and praise her for responding to your lead.
- Counter cruising: Noting your interest in the counter, your dog will likely jump up to have a look as soon as her legs are long enough (or, if you have a large dog, she may be able to just look down at the counter!). If this normal reaction is met with immediate interaction, it will surely be repeated. Though your interaction is confrontational, it surely beats watching the clock tick. Focus on other behaviors, such as appropriate chewing or ball tossing, and discourage your dog’s interest in the counter with a discouragingly sharp “No.”
- Furniture jumping: If the idea of your dog on the furniture is less than appealing, take note of what your eyes may be encouraging. Whether your tone is pleasant or off-putting, if your dog can get your attention by jumping on the couch, rest assured it will become a daily amusement. Place a bed on the floor and calmly discourage her by tugging her off with a collar or leash. Focus your attention only when she’s resting on the floor.
- Chasing behavior: If your dog runs after a child, cat, or car and you’re left shouting after her, your eye contact and verbal attention are backing her up.
- Chewing behavior and the grab-n-go: The image is familiar: Your dog grabs a forbidden object, trots just out of reach, and waits for the inevitable chase. In the cartoons, it’s funny; in real life, not so. But once again, your eye contact speaks louder than words.
- Housesoiling: Many dogs are so lively and bored that they’ll do anything that gets a rise out of someone, including peeing. If your dog eliminates while staring you in the face and then hangs out to watch the cleanup, your eye contact (once again) is guaranteeing a repeat performance.
For more ideas on how to resolve these problems, please refer to Part IV.
Your dog is even more attuned to your body posture than another human is. Imagine seeing a loved one hunched over: Your immediate hesitation would be completely normal as you fumbled to help them or inquired as to their dilemma.
The moment you hunch your body, your dog must interpret what, if anything, is wrong with you and/or the situation. Other dogs hunch for one of three reasons:
- They want to play.
- They’re scared.
- They’re investigating something interesting.
Here’s a quick tip to get your dog to come. Make a loud rancorous shouting noise to alert your dog’s attention, but instead of beaconing or chasing her, simply hunch over and scratch the ground. Curiosity will ensure her participation.
Upright and relaxed is the ideal posture when directing your dog or trying to influence her calm cooperation in stressful situations.
No one can argue the influence of a loving touch. Furthermore, with dogs, touch symbolizes status: A respected, dominant dog is permitted to sniff or prod her group members for no other reason than a commitment to the group’s well-being.
Choose a time when your dog is naturally calm and chaos is minimal. Flatten your hand like a paddle and stroke your dog in long, soothing strokes. Talk calmly as you do so and touch your dog’s nose to tail. Though your dog’s paws are sensitive to touch, stroke each individually; if she hesitates, treat your dog to ensure a more positive association to toe touches.
Attitude is everything! Your dog learns, judges, and respects you based not on what you say but how you act. This silent communication is ongoing 24/7: If you’re successful in playing the role of a confident, self-assured leader, your dog will look to and respect your direction. Fake this attitude even when you’re unsure what to do next.
When you’re teaching your dog a new routine or introducing her to an unfamiliar circumstance, act comfortably familiar with the situation. Your assurance reassures your dog. Repeated directions, on the other hand, confuse and may frighten her. Your silent example will be all the reassurance she needs.
Plan your reactions to daily situations ahead of time so that you limit your befuddlement and thus give your dog the reassurance that you’re knowledgeable enough to handle and direct her through all of life’s events.
Your attention is your dog’s chief motivation in life, and he spends hours targeting the behaviors that ensure your interaction. Without this mutuality, your relationship couldn’t exist. If you can embrace the power of your connection, then it’s easy to deduce that withdrawing your attention can shape your dog’s behavior for the better or worse.
Pay attention when she’s stolen a slipper, but ignore her when she’s quietly chewing a bone, and it’s easy to predict which behavior she’ll repeat. Ignore her when she calmly greets you with a toy, but react to her when she acts like a jumping bean — guess what she’s going to repeat? Outline the ideal responses to everyday situations, from chewing a bone while you’re watching TV or fetching her ball when she wants your attention, and then focus on this good behavior!
Sometimes the easiest solution to remedy negative behaviors is to simply fold your arms in front of your face (which signals a withdrawal in group interaction) or leave (promptly ending interaction). The behavior that results in these responses will be quickly abandoned in favor of what works!
If you want to rile up anyone, person or dog, all you need to do is jump around and act crazy. If you notice that your dog’s behavior is often manic and out of control, look at your response. Does your blood pressure escalate? If so, you’re mirroring your dog’s reaction, which only makes matters more chaotic, not less. A better approach is to reverse the trend:
If your dog is sensitive to sound distractions, such as the doorbell or the vacuum, lead your dog on a leash and ask a helper to simulate the sound periodically while you direct her nonchalantly. (If she’s overexcited, read about red zones in Addressing and Solving Problem Behavior
.) Though she may react excitedly initially, she will soon mirror your calmer response.
Looking at Your Dog Less
If you follow your dog around, inside or out, she’ll think you need a lot of direction. For example, if she grabs objects or gravel and you shout and chase her, in her mind, you’re playing a game. Her object focus will not diminish, and neither will your frustration.
Your dog can learn by your example: Play with her toys, investigate appropriate obstacles, such as a wood pile or rock outcropping, or chase a squirrel. Choose an appropriate digging area or erect a sandbox and play there until she joins you.
Dogs watch, people listen. Adjust your teaching to a medium your dog is most comfortable with — incorporating hand signals with your spoken directions. A dog who watches for direction is less likely to wander out of sight. Here are a few hand signals to try:
- Sit: A hand sweep from above your dog’s nose to your eyes.
- Down: Pointing from your dog’s nose to floor between her paws.
- Come: A broad sweep across your chest and then a directed point at your feet.
- Follow: A sharp slap of your thigh.
- Good: One or both arms thrown high in the air — the human exclamation point.
Whoever stands in front is in charge. When walking your dog near roadways or in unfamiliar environments, teach her to follow your lead. When the unpredictable happens, such as the approach of a dog or stranger, she will automatically look to you and mirror your response.
In addition, teach your dog to respect your authority at the doorways — what she considers the mouth of your den.
Teach your dog “Back” (in Happy Training, Happy Tails
), using it before greeting visitors. Always encourage containment and focus before entering and exiting.
Imagine someone repetitively shouting directions at you — “Pass the ketchup, the ketchup, the ketchup.” You’d neither want to listen or cooperate, and an escalating tone would only make matters worse. Your dog feels the same way!
A far better approach to teaching your dog a new direction is to be silent as you use food bits or a favorite toy to lure your dog into a chosen position, such as “Sit,” or “Down,” as described in Happy Training, Happy Tails
. Once your dog is comfortable with the posture, you can associate a one-word cue with it. However, the real learning process occurred in silence.
by Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson