Effective Communication in Dog Training

Dogs are amazing creatures. They adapt to countless situations. They are phenomenal at associations: including learning the meaning or implication of many sounds, such as human language. A dog's "vocabulary" can reach upward of 150 distinct words! However, regardless of how smart, how skilled, and how adaptable they are, dogs will never be verbal animals.

Their first language, so to speak, is not words, but body language. Because of this, it's only natural that your dog will interpret your words though a "filter" – of body language, facial expression, tone of voice, even your attention. And if one or more of these "disagree" with the words you are using, most dogs will "obey" your body language!

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In my experience, most snags in the dog training process result from miscommunication, not willfulness, stubbornness, or dominance. While this article is geared toward training the family dog, the fact is that whether your dog is strictly a family pet, a competitor in canine sports, or a full-time working dog, getting the most out of your training time means learning to communicate effectively with your dog.

Communication Begins with Attention

Possibly the most fundamental form of communication is your attention. This is true whether you are teaching some new skill, practicing an old one, or refining an advanced behavior. When you give your attention to something your dog does – through touch, voice, eye contact, smiling, or laughter – you draw attention to the behavior.

This tells your dog that you find the behavior worthy of interest. Dogs, being sociable creatures, find most interaction and attention reinforcing. They value it, and will work to get it – and this is not even considering whether or not the dog finds the behavior reinforcing in and of itself. So when training, keep in mind that you don't have to actively reward a behavior to reinforce it.