By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA
Dogs are excellent observers of the human species. They can tell when we’re about to leave for work. They know when we’re sad or upset. They even predict when we’re leaving for vacation. But they don’t speak English. Or Spanish. Or French. Or Japanese. Or…you get the idea.
Believe it or not, the following video clip is probably a pretty accurate representation of what dogs hear when we talk:
Occasionally, dogs will hear a sound that seems familiar, and in that moment they will understand what we want them to do. But those sounds get lost in the sea of conversation we usually send their way.
When training, being consistent with how you talk to your dog is very important. You must be consistent with the words and the tones you use. You shouldn’t tell your dog “lay” sometimes and “down” others. If you use “down” to mean stop jumping on your guests, don’t use it to mean lay down also. Try “off” for the jumping. Or just “lay” for lay down. Consistency with the tone you use when saying these words is equally as vital to a dog’s understanding. Dogs aren’t learning the words we teach them, they’re learning the sound of the word. “Sit” and “Siiiiiiiiiit” are two different words. I like to use the shorter tone, it cuts through the background noise better, and I make sure to always say it in a happy way. Dogs like listening to happy people. Nobody likes listening to angry people.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your dog. I talk to my dogs all the time, usually in a fun and silly voice. They may not know what I’m saying, but they do know we’re having fun. However, when I’m using my training words, and I want to make sure I get my point across, the size of my vocabulary decreases considerably.
Remember this the next time you get frustrated and long winded with your dog. When you say, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you did this! You know better than to act this way, how could you do such a thing? And with my favorite sweater!” Your dog is actually hearing, “Wah wahwah wah wah, wah wah wah! Wah wahwah wah wah, wah wah wahwah? Wah wah wahwah wah!”
Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training. He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer. He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed. He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.