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Canine Communicators, "The Wildrose Way"

by Mike Stewart
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Understanding, then applying the principles of canine communication is fundamental to achieving performance, compatibility, and excellent behaviors in any dog, whether it is for sport, working, or family companionship. Two basic principles of successful canine communication can be described with two fill-in-the-blank statements. Know the answers, then apply them consistently and results will promptly be realized:
1. "Dogs don't ______."
2. "Dogs _______."


First, recognize that we humans are often guilty of overlaying our human emotions, values, even motivators onto our canine companions. Individuals attempt, in misguided, good faith efforts, to communicate with their dogs as they might with other people and here is where difficulties can begin.

Answer number 1 – "Dogs don't talk." People communicate primarily by talking. One can wonder if this is truly as effective a means of communication as we like to think. Studies show that people only retain about 20% of the information they hear, even in a structured classroom setting. Put a group of dogs together and the outcome will be the same. Dogs don't talk. But careful observation by the aware eye will show that the dogs communicate among each other quite effectively and they have done so subtly for thousands of years. Their communicators include eyes, head position, stance, mouth movement, tail position--just to name a few. It's body language at its finest without a word being spoken, yet intentions--acceptance, fear, desires, and attitudes--are all clearly articulated.

The lesson for the human equation is this, what you say to your dog is not nearly as important as what your body language, eyes and tone of voice are indicating. Your dog is reading you constantly, even if you think they are not paying attention. You may say one thing with full intention of gaining compliance but your body language may be communicating something quite different. Humans communicate primarily by voice; dogs communicate through body language. So think, really what are you communicating? Remember, dogs perceive information first by smell, second by eyes, then by ears. Not getting the response from your best pal in the field or home? Examine how you communicate with your dog. Duplicate the gesture similar to those used by the pack including eye contact, stance, and gestures then you have tapped into the communication world of dogs.
  • 1st – body language
  • 2nd – tone of voice
  • 3rd – then what you say, the command
A second reason people fail in effectively communicating with their dogs is they don't have the dog's full attention or as we say, "focus." If a dog is distracted or intentionally detached from their handlers' attempts to connect, nothing will be accomplished. No learning will occur and similarly, no correct behaviors will likely be produced. Dogs can be quite effective at avoidance strategies when they choose and often matters are greatly complicated by excitement and too much unspent energy harbored in the dog.

Answer #2 – "Dogs walk." Dogs are energetic creatures. To effectively communicate with your dog, you must gain their focused attention. Uncontrolled, misdirected, excessive energy blocks communication. When a dog first comes out of the crate or pen, or when you return home after a day's absence, excitement usually prevails. One cannot expect focused, patient behavior from the dog, the type attitude necessary for learning. Exercise is needed to burn energy. In the dog world, "Dogs walk." Packs begin their day in the wild with a specific routine involving control and exercise. Duplicate the same routine in your home with the family dogs or your hunter and you are establishing a basis for effective communication. Burn energy first to gain focus and patience.

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