The connection between dog and man has never been deeper than it is today. Dogs have transcended from the family pet to companions who many consider an important part of the family. We’re increasingly finding new ways to humanize our dog companions, yet we still don’t share a common language.
It stands to reason that any animal that is able to sort through all of our inconsistent body language and our constant babbling to figure out our intent must be pretty smart right? Dogs filter just about everything we do in an attempt to figure out what we’re thinking and what we want them to do. So how can we make it easier for them to understand our intentions? There’s one thing we can do to help, we can invest time into developing a common language to interact with them, also known as dog training.
Perhaps a more accurate term for ‘dog training’ would be ‘dog communication training for humans’ because that’s what it is. My suggestion is clearly a mouthful, so we’ll just stick with dog training for now. The point is dogs know what to do; it’s us humans that make things confusing. Through dog training, we learn to use a consistent set of words in tandem with consistent body language, and this makes human to dog communication much easier for our beloved pups to understand.
Recently, one of my co-workers told me a story about a middle-aged woman who adopted a strong large sized dog. When they would walk through town the dog would display signs of leash aggression when any other dog was in sight. With the dog pulling at the chain, ready to protect and attack, the woman would try and get the dog to calm down by saying ‘be nice… be nice… BE NICE…’ Makes perfect sense, right? To us humans it does. However, dogs associate things in context and so this dog did what many dogs would do and associated the words ‘be nice’ with ‘attack’. Working with a professional dog trainer can teach you how to properly apply positive reinforcement or well timed corrections to get the desired results.
So, now that we have our own context for what dog training is, lets take a look at some of the benefits that training you dog can provide.
As previously mentioned, training is a gateway to communicating in a common language with our pups. Both verbal cues and body language, such as hand signals, can be used to convey our intent or meaning to our furry companions.
Recent studies have revealed that some dogs have up to a 300-word vocabulary! Take a moment and quickly write down all the words your dog knows and while it may not be 300 words it’ll likely be more words than you would have thought.
In fact, Chaser, a border collie, who many believe has the largest vocabulary of any dog has a vocabulary of 1000 words. 60-Mintues did a special on this special dog that is worth watching.
While you’re dog might not ever be able to understand 1000 words, he’s probably a lot smarter than you think he is.
Through training you can continue to add to the words you dog understands. Through consistent words and body language you can unlock a powerful level of communication between you and your dog.
Over a decade ago when I first got into the dog care business my dog, Toronto, was a puppy. I didn’t know much then, but like a good pet parent I took him to obedience training. We went through basic obedience (sit, stay, down, come, heel), and intermediate obedience twice. The intermediate class we took built off basic and included things like down at a distance, sit and stay while I walk away, stay down until released, etc. Obviously the class itself is a time investment, but I also invested time daily to reinforce what we were learning. The result was what I had hoped for, I had a well trained big dog. However I filed to see the biggest impact until much later.
Several months after our last training class I was walking Toronto and all of a sudden he got spooked by a sound, shook his head and pulled right out of his collar, on a busy NYC intersection. Yikes, this was one scary situation. He started to head away from me, across the street and into traffic. Instead of chasing him I issued a well-rehearsed command “Toronto. Stay!” He stopped in his tracks and looked at me. “Toronto. Come!” (Issued with the hand signal for come) Guess what he did? He calmly walked right back to me, I gave him the command for heel and he swung around and sat right next to me. With his full attention now on me, I tightened his collar a little and put it back on him. Phew.
Proper training can literally save your dog’s life.
The ability to come to when called, to sit, stay, heel, remain calm on command, in public and outdoors can really make a difference when faced with an emergency.
Enhance Your Bond
Your dog loves* you and looks forward to every moment she spends with you. I’m sure you’ve noticed that you can walk away from her and be out of sight for, oh let’s say 5 seconds, and when she sees you again it’s like you’ve been gone for 5 hours.
* Some clever folks are proving that dogs feel love similar to how we humans feel love, but I bet you knew this already without any experiments. Just the same it’s nice to know that their love for us is real and not just projected by us humans.
Walking, napping, and play time are great ways for the two of you to spend time together, but few things have the ability to create a deep like training. Working together to build a shared language gives you a common goal. Shared goals build strong bonds between people and dogs alike.
One of the pillars of being an effective leader of people is to be consistent. Consistency provides a sense of security and comfort. People feel secure when they know what to expect in all situations, if they break the rules they know not only what the punishment will be, but also that it will be enforced. They also know what the rewards will be when they do good things and that the rewards will be received. People trust leaders who have clearly defined expectations and are consistent with their reward and punishment systems. Dogs are the same. You’re the leader* and while they’re eager to please you, it becomes difficult for them if you are constantly changing the rules. And if you do this, change the rules, or are inconsistent, then both people and dogs will find it hard to trust you.
*Please don’t think I mean leader of the pack. Sorry Cesar, many recent studies have proven that the human dog relationship is not equate in any way to the relationship of a pack of wolves in the wild, but this is clearly the topic for another article.
Dogs are social by nature, its obvious that they enjoy being around people and other dogs. Dogs who do not enjoy these things are poorly socialized, which leads to other behavioral issues. If you’ve ever hurt your foot in a manner that resulted in a limp, you know that eventually something else starts to hurt like your knee, leg, or back, and if you keep walking something else will start to hurt too. This is because you over compensate and pain, discomfort, and injuries basically cascade because your feet are the foundation of your body. Your feet and legs not only get you from point A to point B, but they provide you balance and stability. Poorly socialized dogs are unbalanced and aren’t stable. Dogs that haven’t been socialized are likely to manifest issues in other areas of their behavior due to a lack of interaction with new people and dogs. Poor behaviors such as aggression, destructiveness, and barking can be the cascade effects of poor social skills. A well rounded dog needs social interaction just a like a person.
Training helps to address socialization in two ways. First if you opt for group classes you’re pup will learn to greet and play with other dogs under the supervision of a professional trainer who will not only let your dog know what is appropriate play behavior and what isn’t, but will let you know how to identify and correct any unwanted behaviors. Second, by training your pup to come when called, or to calm down you can help him learn what is appropriate when playing with other dogs and calm him down before play escalates into more.
It’s important to note that rescue dogs, adults, and senior pups can also benefit from socialization because they can make new friends and learn to be friendly to other dogs in social situations.
A good dog is a welcome dog
Pet friendly businesses are becoming the norm. There has never been a more welcoming time for dog owners to bring their pups into public spaces. Restaurants, stores, dog parks, outdoor events, public beaches, and cafes in NYC have all opened their doors to pet lovers. One of my favorite apps, Slobbr, is a guide to all the places you can bring your urban pup and Slobbr’s list of places seems to be endlessly growing.
Professional dog trainers can help with many nuisance behaviors that might otherwise prevent you and your pup from enjoying the pet friendly movement. Behaviors such as jumping, excessive barking or whining, destructiveness, aggression toward other pets, or people, and begging for food will all make you and your pup persona non grata. And beyond feeling unwelcome in public places you may find that invitations for your canine friend a far a few between for get-togethers at the homes of friends and family.
Remember, good canine citizens are often invited everywhere!