The art of communicating with another species

Words, letters, nouns, names, verbs, adverbs – our dogs don’t understand what we are talking about. Our communication has to be short and fun. And before one starts with the high school of dog training, a dog needs to know his name.

The use of names in humans has two distinct functions; firstly to identify the person in question to a third person. This way, everyone knows exactly whom I mean when I say Elton John. If Elton would not have a name, I would have to describe him, you know, that guy from GB, that wears these glasses, plays the piano, has these hits, you know, I’m still standing, … it is way easier when I can remember his name is Elton.

The second use of a name is to inform someone that these words are intended for him or her. “Elton, can you please do the dishes?”

Our dogs can understand the use of names in identifying themselves, individuals and articles, as long as they learn to differentiate. We present a bone and say bone, so the dog learns bone = bone.

Does your dog associate the name with himself? Unfortunately most dog owners use the name and don’t add a request or a command. If I would say “Elton”, I will probably get his attention, but if I don’t go ahead communicating with him or asking him something, he will go on with what ever he was doing. For dogs, one word, “Elton!” is therefore and unfortunately assigned to many meanings:

  • Come here
  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Don’t do what you are about to
  • Bad dog
  • Don’t eat that
  • Get off the sofa
  • Get in the car
  • Be quiet
  • Stop pulling

Did you realize something? It is all kind of negative.

Names are ear openers. If nothing follows, the ears close again. One should say the dog’s name to get his attention, before giving a command. So one has to mark the attention behavior. The best case would be you say with a motivational sing voice “Elton!” the dog does not know that his name is Elton, but he looks at you, and that is the moment you capture, you have fun and praise him with “good Elton” – not “good boy”!!! Unconditionally. Next time you may give him a treat, another time cuddle him, next time pick-up his leash and go for a walk, another time play a game.

Once Elton is reliably looking at you in expectation of a reward, you may ask for a favour. The easiest one is a sit. Now the dog gains the reward for sitting, so you say, “good sit” – not “good Elton”. Next time you only want his attention, and another time you ask for the sit again. If the sit is reliable you may ask for another favour and so on. Keep it short and sweet, but precise and consistent.

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