Sunday, May 5, 2013

what are you communicating to your dog?

Remember my post about becoming “Unglued” a few weeks ago? Well, I didn’t mention someone who makes me come unglued frequently—my dog. Ivy is a calm and sweet four-year-old, but about once a day, she has moments where she gets so hyper and excited, that she has to run around our home in fast circles, knocking down anything or anyone in her path. Even though in 2011, she had a serious injury from running full-speed into the glass sliding door, she will still forget that she has to wait until the door is opened. She will pace around my seat at dinner, even though I ask her to sit 20 times. She has trouble figuring out if she likes her little human brother. (He is her favorite person at mealtimes as she sits under his highchair, but other times she doesn’t want him to encroach upon her personal space.) And when we go for walks, she either pulls me as she leaps across the yard with incredible strength, or she stands in one spot, sniffs, and won’t budge. Needless to say, I am working on controlling my frustration in these situations, because I know that she feeds off of my energy, and this only makes her behavior worse. My friend from college, Josh Brown, breeds German Shepherd puppies in Alaska, and I am learning a lot about dog training and patience from his Dog Blog.
Here is a great post that Josh wrote about communicating with your dog:

Who is the best communicator in this picture?
Your dog is probably a better communicator than you are. (If you are a wife, sitting behind your husband as he reads this, now is not the time for snide comments.) Alas, we are almost certain this is true. Your dog is an incredibly reactionary creature who hears almost everything you say to them and responds immediately.

Have you ever been to a dog park? Seen someone with a dog off-leash at a regular park? You know that terribly annoying dog owner who has to run around the park calling their dog's name while the dog runs the other direction from them? The dog is probably not running the other direction from them because it is a naughty dog. It is running the other direction because that is what the owner is telling the dog to do!
If you are at the park and one of your friends shows up and seems really, really angry and you really have no idea why, but you hear them yelling, "COME HERE. I AM SO ANGRY AT YOU. WE ARE GOING TO SORT THIS OUT. I AM GOING TO HIT YOU." Are you going to head towards that person even though you know them? I mean, they are really enraged and you can hear how angry they are in their voice. Would you go towards them?

If you answer yes, stop reading. I can't help you because you are missing the point. Point is - all your dog knows is that you are mad, you are mad at them and you are quite eager to punish them. And how do they know this? Because last time you yelled at them and they did finally come, they got punished! For coming, no less! This is where we get in to the interesting part of communicating with your dog. While we, as people, do much of our communication through words, our dogs do not.
With our German Shepherd puppies in Alaska, we use lots and lots of hand signals to communicate. There is no anger in our tone when we use hand signals. They cannot hear our annoyance or perhaps hear that we are saying it passively and will not do anything if they don't come - all they know is exactly what to do. We find that with our large German Shepherd puppies, hand signals work wonderfully. We have a very high obedience rate with hand signals. We encourage you to come up with a hand signal that is easy to do and to use it every single time you give your dog the command it is associated with.

german-shepherdBlue is a master communicator!
The second thing you should do to communicate better with your dog is pause and think about what you are actually communicating. The words matter significantly less than the tone, your physical posture and the look on your face. When you have that new puppy who won't come to you at the dog park, keep calling them excitedly and even if it takes an hour, reward them incessantly when they finally come. Want to make this even easier? When you are doing dog training a new puppy, you should never give them a command you cannot make them do. Point being, you should only tell them to "come" when they are on a leash and you can make them do it. It helps reinforce that when you say come, they come. It becomes a fact of life. So there's two- slow down, think about what you are actually communicating.

Be patient. I don't mean just be slow, I mean have the strength and determination and the belief that if you work hard at training your dog without getting angry at them, it will have positive long results in the long run. Patience is the 15th time your dog doesn't come that day, yet you still believe that they will. Your dog will hear this in your voice, in your posture and see it in your face and we promise you - it will help.

Here's number the fourth and probably the hardest thing to swallow. Your dog's disobedience - it is probably your fault. Your dog thinks it is doing what you want. You are yelling "Come!" and as someone who is fluent in English, you know exactly what that word means. While you are yelling this, your dog is hearing "If you come near me, you are going to catch a beating!" There is certainly a time and a place to punish your dog, but training is not that time. Training is the time for high hopes, for belief, for your undying wish to have a well-behaved dog to overpower your lack of patience.
Believe us, with our German Shepherd puppies, we get exhausted from training. Not every single one of our dogs behave perfectly. But we have done the research to tell you that beyond a shadow of a doubt - focus on what you are actually communicating, not what you are saying in a language your dog simply doesn't speak.

At Far North Kennel, we love our dogs and they are our family. While we are German Shepherd breeders, the majority of the posts on our Dog Blog will help out owners of any breed. We invite you to contact us directly with questions you may have, we promise to respond individually to you! You do not have to buy a dog from us to get help from us!

Josh Brown is a dog lover, trainer and breeder in Anchorage, AK. He owns Far North Kennel and breeds German Shepherd Puppies. Josh writes a blog with training and behavioral tips for owners of all breeds that you are invited to check out his Dog Blog here.
Find Far North Kennel on Facebook!

Thank you, Josh, for all of your advice! It is encouraging to know that we can become better communicators with our dogs.


  1. Excellent advice...thank you for sharing.

  2. this is so great! we tried really hard to be the perfect doggie owners and trainers but when william came, that kind of got put on hold (plus, cross-country with an eight week old pup did not help matters). we're trying to get back in to it and will definitely keep this in mind!


  3. Very informative articel. I enjoyed reading it & it certaiinly makes sense.

  4. Great Article! I get unglued daily thanks to my 100+ lb Newfie.... I totally related to everything you wrote!

  5. I hope to have German Shepherds as soon as I can move to the country .. I want them to have lots of room to play... I have heard officers with German Shepherds give their commands in German... Do the dogs actually relate to German or are the officers trying to keep their conversations private? :)

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