Communicating without words
Humans primarily communicate through words while dogs primarily communicate through body language. It is due to this difference in communication style that we often see unsatisfactory results while training our dogs.
I like to teach dog owners in my obedience classes to slow down, to say less, and to communicate more through their body language. By using less words and giving the dog more time to actually remain in a certain area, the dog learns not only to follow you, but also to be calm and patient.
In this article, I want to show you one way to teach your dog to become more calm and obedient by using the power of the pause. I will show you how to practice this with a simple but very effective training exercise.
For many of my clients, taking the dog out for a walk is a stressful and hectic task. I see them pick up the leash and usually say something like; ”Fido, do you want to go outside? Let's go for a WALK!” Their dog spins around in circles and excitedly jumps around and crowds toward the front door. The dog is so hyper that it is almost impossible to get the leash clipped to the collar. Next the dog owner will swing the front door open and the dog will rush out, dragging the owner behind him.
If your dog is acting in a similar manner when you try to put on the leash and take him outside, he has learned to be excited every time the leash gets put on, or the door is opened. Most of the time the excitement is increased by the owner talking in an excited voice about how fun it will be to go for a walk.
To curb the hyper excitement, first you must hold back with the verbal narration. Say nothing at all. Simply pick up the leash. If Fido gets super excited just by you holding the leash, walk around the house and put the leash down in a few different places. Say nothing, ignore Fido. Simply pick up the leash, then walk a few feet and put it down someplace. Repeat several times until Fido looses interest and stops running around. This first part is conditioning the dog to not associate excitement with you holding the leash. You can work on this for several days. Picking up the leash and putting it back down without saying anything, and without actually putting it on the dog.
Once Fido is calmed down, pick up the leash and squat down without saying anything. If he comes over quietly, put on the leash. If he acts excited and jumps around, do not put on the leash, simply get back up and hold the leash. Wait for him to calm down first. Once he is calmly waiting, put on the leash. Stand up straight and don't move, just stand there with Fido on the leash and wait. He should be calmly standing or sitting. If he is jumping around, trying to drag you toward the door, don't do anything. Simply stand still. The idea is to get him to calm down and not feed him more excitement by adding movement or words. Do the entire exercise without a spoken word.
Continue with the exercise when he is calm. Walk toward the front door. If he gets excited and starts to pull, walk away from the door, stop and just stand. Do not talk. You don't even need to look at Fido. When he is calm again, turn and walk toward the door. Expect him to remain calm. If he isn't, just turn and walk away from the door again. Repeat this until he is calmly walking toward the door.
You can now open the door. However, do not allow Fido to walk through it. Just open the door. If he wants to drag you through the door, walk the other direction, back into the house. Stop, wait and make him calm down. With the door now open, approach the door, but don't walk through it. Expect Fido to quietly walk back and forth with you. Finally walk through the door when he is calm and quiet.
Practice this exercise often. In the beginning, do not do this when you are taking the dog for his regular walk, but rather when you have time to spend 15 to 20 minutes just to do the leash or door exercise. After he has learned to be calm, you need to expect him to calmly walk through the door every time, even when you are in a hurry!
Most importantly, do not use words, just use your quiet calm demeanor to communicate with your dog. Your body language and your own quite behavior will communicate to him how you want him to behave in this situation. By using less words, you are controlling the situation with just your quiet presence, you are communicating in a new and better way. You will see your dog become more attentive. Remember to use the power of the pause. Simply stand still and expect your dog to be calm.