What Is Your Current Communication Style?
Are you a lecturer? Do you spew forth a whole slew of words at your dog in an effort to make your point with him? Are you a frustrated yeller? Nothing drives home your point like raising your voice with your dog, right? Or are you the person who repeats the cue many times because surely the problem is that the dog did not hear you the first 10 times you told him to SIT. Or are you the frustrated communicator who just gives up when your dog does not do as he is asked?
If you find that your Snow Dog is not listening very well to your cues, perhaps part of the problem actually stems from your communications skills and not from something lacking in your dog.
Learning How To Speak Doggish
There is no question as to how smart huskies and Malamutes really are. But no matter how smart and adaptable they are, they are never going to be animals that have truly learned human language. A dog’s language is a combination of body postures, some vocalizations, and a silent networked communication of reading bio-energetic energy. When your dog “understands” your verbal cues, what he is actually doing is interpreting your words through his doggy filter to look for facial expressions, body language, and the tone of your voice. He may also factor in cues from his environment to help him decipher your “coded” message.
If your dog sees you get your coat and shoes on AND he hears the sound of the word WALK, he knows that all these clues combined means that the chances are really good that he gets to go for a walk. But use the word WALK in a different sentence, and while his ears may perk up at the sound of the word W-A-L-K, without the other communication signals to go along with it the word WALK may not necessarily be understood as a direct outcome of spoken language communication. So when your body language and tone of voice do not match the message you are trying to convey to your dog, the dog will automatically default to following the cues of your body language because it is hardwired in his brain to recognize this as a familiar and viable form of communication. Therefore it becomes crucial that we pay attention to how we are presenting ourselves to our dogs when we are giving them verbal instruction.
So if dogs can only know the sounds of a word and then relate the sounds of those words to an action, you can easily understand why so many people run into problems when it comes to trying to communicate and train their dogs. Too many people forget that their dog does not understand the actual syntax of the words SIT, DOWN, COME, and OFF. If you want to communicate and get your point across to your dog more effectively, you need to learn how to communicate more efficiently in Doggish.
Learning A Second Language
As a trainer I get to see all kinds of training disasters take place. In my experience, I would have to say that most husky training problems come from owner miscommunication and training inconsistencies and not from willful disobedience, stubbornness, or issues of dominance on the part of the dogs. In the case of huskies, there is a small factor of “Why should I want to please you?” going on but that can easily be addressed and compensated for by making training less like work and more like fun and games for them. Huskies do not like serious training and repetition just for the sake of repetition. That is just how it is so you many as well accept it and learn to work with it.
Dogs are social creatures by nature find social interaction and attention reinforcing. These things hold a value for dogs so that means that they will be willing to work to get social interaction and attention – under the right circumstances. What this also means is that social interaction and attention can be used inadvertently used to reinforce behaviours that we DON’T want to foster in our dogs. In order for that not to happen, we have to be aware and present when we are working to teach our dogs.
Let Your Body Talk
What is your body language saying about you when you work with your dog? In order to be able communicate with maximum efficiency with your dog, when you address your dog, be aware of your body language in that moment. Your body language should reflect your position as a self confident, calm, leader, and teacher.
4 Ways That You Unconsciously Convey A Message To Your Dog
- Your Face
When your dog looks at you, he looks at your face to get cues and clues about what is going to happen next. What is your face telling your dog? When instructing your dog, your gaze and attention should be on your dog. Relax your facial muscles. Your face should not be contorted, grimacing, or scowling. Make eye contact with your dog but soften your eyes. Eyes that stare hard at a dog in Doggish mean you are issuing a challenge to the dog. That could make your dog shut down or feel intimidated.
- Your Body
Dogs look at body postures as way of understanding their environment. What message is your body posture delivering to your dog? Your body should be relaxed and your movements and body language should give off an air of calm, relaxed confidence. Have an upright posture without being overly rigid. Dogs can become confused by too much busy body movement. Move around too much and he may even assume that you are trying to play some kind of fun new game with him and miss the point of the exercise all together. Any hand signals used for training should be clean, simple and well defined. Your hands should other wise be still and free from excessive and meaningless motion.
- Your Voice
Your voice conveys more than just the command itself. What kind of message is the tone and level of your voice sending your dog? Communicating effectively and clearly with your dog also includes the delivery of the cues. It affects how your dog learns and responds. Don’t bury your cue in a gush of confusing, meaningless jibber jabber of spoken human language. Keep your cue to single words like SIT or COME. Pay attention to how you present the cues. When you give your dog a verbal cue, your voice should be relaxed and in normal tones. Avoid tones that are whiney, weak, questioning, or pleading. A cue must given with authority, not negotiated. It should not be left up to your dog if he wants or feels like complying with your instructions. But avoid tones that are overly loud or intimidating as they tend to make dogs either challenge you or shrink away from you. Neither of these states are conducive to effective learning. The best learning will take place when you issue your cues in a voice that is reasonable, comfortable, and normal for you.
- Your Energy
Your dog is brilliant at being able to read body energy. What is your body energy telling your dog about you? Dogs interpret body energy so that they know what to expect from the dog or person approaching them. They can “feel” another dog’s energy from twenty feet away. That also means that they will also be able to pick up on your energy too. An effective communicator and trainer has to be aware, be present, and be focussed in the moment while they train so that they can be ready to catch and mark those appropriate behaviours when your dog delivers them to you.
It is because dogs are so good at reading body energy that they will be very skilled at picking up on your feelings of apprehension, fear, conflictedness, nervousness, happiness, sadness, frustration, or indifference that are going on inside of YOU. Your dog lives with you and is fully aware of who you are as a representation of energy. That means they also know when you are being fake or insincere. They know when they should listen and when they can blow off your cues. They can sense when you mean what you say or when your heart is not in what you are saying.
This is the single biggest reason why husky owners struggle with their dog’s behaviours …. the dogs simply do not take the cues seriously because they do not take their owners seriously. Far too often the owners have failed to give off the correct communication to show their dogs that they are indeed their dog’s leader.
Developing Command Presence
I often use the phrase Command Presence to describe the attitude and energy necessary to be a good leader of your dog. This state utilizes an inside force of power rather than relying on some external forces of power like physical punishment or coercion to get compliance from your dog. Think like Yoda from Star Wars and the “force” will be with you too. If you want your dog to listen to you then you have to BE the energy of a confident leader worthy of following before you can convince your dog that you ARE these things. Dogs, especially Snow Dogs, will not follow weak, inconsistent, or unconfident leadership attempts. Simply, they are too wise and strong minded to do that.
Chicken Or Egg
Does your dog have problems with following your cues or are you causing your dog not to listen to you? If you want to effectively communicate with your Snow Dog, you have to be prepared to first BE the change that you want to see in your dog. If your dog is inconsistent in the way that he listens to you, chances are really good that you are inconsistent in some areas of your life. Be willing to address that before you can expect to see changes in your dog. If you find that your dog has trouble understanding the rules, chances are pretty good that you struggle with setting and keeping good boundaries and rules in your own life. Be willing to address this. Be the change that you want to see in your dog FIRST and then your dog’s behaviour will mirror back those changes to you.
7 Ways To Efficiently and Effectively Communicate With Your Snow Dog
- Be confident in the way that you interact with your dog. If your words tell him to do one thing but your body language and your body energy convey a mixed message, your dog will default to follow the message of the body language message every time. If you have fear, your dog will mirror that fear back to you. If you have doubts, your dog will mirror that back to you by being unsure. If you don’t believe that your dog is capable of accomplishing a particular behaviour, then your dog will prove that your belief was indeed correct. Dog training and communication really does come down to having the belief that you can convince your dog to do a task. If you don’t believe that he can do it, then neither will the dog. Be willing to suspend your disbelief. Be willing to raise the bar. Be willing to have expectations of behaviour and then be willing to follow through to make sure that these expectations are met.
- Be consistent with the cues that you use and the way in which you ask for the rules to be followed. Use the same word in the same way all of the time. Make sure that everyone in the house is also on the same page with you. Conflicting approaches to rules and training only serve to further confuse the dog. Dogs do not generalize well from situation to situation. For them a rule is ALWAYS or NEVER so rules must always be reinforced in the same way and for the same reason. And that means that you must also be willing to step up and follow through until your instructions were carried out byy the dog. If you allow your dog to not follow through with an instruction, he learns that he does not have to comply to your cues. If a dog blows off your cue, recall the dog, place him back into position, repeat the cue, and wait for the dog to comply. If at first it takes 5 minutes, then it takes 5 minutes. Every time you show the dog that non-compliance is not an option, you are one step closer to establishing yourself as a strong leader. It only gets easier every time you apply consistency to your training.
- Be sure that your rules and expectations are sustainable. A task or request cannot be beyond a dog’s level of age or functioning. You cannot expect a 12 week old puppy to have sustained attention. It just won’t happen. So make your training and expectations are age and functioning appropriate and then adjust your expectations as the dog grows and matures.
- Be willing to SEE THE DOG and always set your dog up for success. Be honest about the behaviours that you have to work with. Be willing to see the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly. This will be the starting point of your training. We cannot change what do not first accept. There is no point in living in denial about your dog’s behaviours. We only struggle when we resist what we need to accept. If you do not like your dog’s behaviours, then acknowledge them honestly, and make a sustainable plan for how you are going to help facilitate the change of these behaviours even when the changes involve YOUR behaviours or habits.
- Be willing to move past NO. Do not just tell your dog what NOT to do, show him what you DO want him to do. Saying, “No, stop that”, is not enough information for your dog. You have to be willing to show him what you want him to instead of the behaviour that he is doing. If your dog is jumping on people at the door, show him that you want him to lie on a mat off to the side and stay there until you release him. If your dog is not coming when you call him, calmly go and get him (don’t chase him or he will think it is a game) or lure him to you with food, and then make him come and sit in front of you. Show him what you want him to do.
- Make sure that YOU release your dog when the task is finished. All too often people give their dog a cue, like SIT, but then fail to tell him that he is has now completed the request and you have given him permission to go. You can release him from the cue by issuing another cue like OKAY. Instead, they walk away from the dog, the dog eventually gets up from the sit and walks away. The owner has no problems with the dog getting up and walking away BUT what the dog just learned from this situation that he can make the choice to get up from the sit when he wants to. If you want your dog to listen to your cue of SIT next time, and to stay sitting, then do not let your dog make the choice of when he breaks out of the SIT. YOU must tell him when he is done. So follow through ALL of your cues by releasing the dog from the cue after he has complied with your request.
- And finally, remember what training your Snow Dog is really about. Training is about shaping his behaviours to fit into YOUR world. In the wild, canines do not give a second thought to behaviours like SIT, STAY or OFF but in your human world these things matter. Learning to STAY may save your dog from running out onto the street and getting hit by a car. SIT may keep you from getting dragged out into traffic by your dog. OFF can mean that you can still have a social life that includes your dog because he does not assault everyone that walks through your door. These rules and this training is foreign to your dog so have patience and understanding when he does not immediately comply.
So if you are having trouble getting through to your Snow Dog …. just change your communication style.
As always we welcome your comments and your stories about training and communicating with your Snow Dogs. Do you happen to own a hard to train dog? Have you discovered an awesome new way that made training fun for your dog? Please share your stories with us because it is when we share our stories that we can help someone who might be struggling.
We want to help all Snow Dogs …. one owner at a time.