Talk to the Animals – How Our Dogs Communicate

“But animals don’t always speak with their mouths,” said the parrot in a high voice, raising her eyebrows. “They talk with their ears, with their feet, with their tails—with everything. Sometimes they don’t WANT to make a noise. Do you see now the way he’s twitching up one side of his nose?”

“What’s that mean?” asked the Doctor.

“That means, ‘Can’t you see that it has stopped raining?’” Polynesia answered. “He is asking you a question. Dogs nearly always use their noses for asking questions.”

- Hugh Lofting, The Story of Dr. Dolittle

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I frequently wonder why there aren’t more dog bites happening.  We humans do the craziest things.  We take a dog out of it’s natural environment (outside), “domesticate” it (well, not entirely), and then expect poor Fido to act human.  He barks – let’s use a shock collar.  He pees on the floor – let’s rub his nose in it.  He pulls on a leash – prong collar it is.  Why? He needs to be punished, so he knows he’s been bad.  

The concept of punishing a dog always confused me.  People tell me they do it so the dog knows that it “did wrong”.  But in reality, have they? Dogs are very honest creatures.  They aren’t conniving.  They aren’t diabolical.  They don’t bluff.  Unlike, say…Oh I don’t know.  Maybe….

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In other words, they’re dogs, not cats.

So how can a dog be bad?  Fido’s problem isn’t that he’s a bad dog.  Fido’s problem is that he’s a horrible human.  And you’re punishing him for it.  

Well, guess what?  We don’t always make the best dogs.

Rather than placing blame (on either species) and feeling the need to punish, let’s focus on how to more effectively, and humanely, communicate with our dogs. To do that, we need to understand where they are coming from.

Dogs ask questions.  A lot of questions.  All day long, nonstop.  For example:

"Can I eat that?"

“Can I eat that?”

"If he doesn't want it, can I have it?"

“If he doesn’t want it, can I have it?”

Yes, most of their questions do revolve around food.  But rather than punishing them for asking a question, let’s just do the logical thing and answer their questions.

Dogs are binary creatures.  Everything is “yes” or “no”.  Think of it as a giant game of hot/cold.  Even easier, “yes” is the absence of “no”.  (If you have kids you know exactly what I mean.)  Or imagine if you’re at a dinner party, and there’s one more piece of cake left.  You ask if anyone minds if you take that last piece of cake.  You pause for a few moments, but since nobody has said “no”.  So you take that piece of cake and enjoy it.

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So how do you answer a dog’s questions?  Body language.  As Polynesia the parrot from Dr. Dolittle pointed out above, animals don’t (usually) use their voices to communicate.  For the most part, they use body language.  All you need to effectively communicate with your dog is to learn how to tell Fido “no” in a way he understands, without resorting to violence, while still respecting each of you.  A simple answer to a simple question. We call this Piloting your dog.

Step 1 – Control Yourself.
If you’re angry, rushed, annoyed, hyper….it’s not going to work.  Fido is simply going to fling that energy right back at you like monkeys at the zoo.  Be calm.  Or at least pretend to be calm.

Make sure you’re controlling your body language, too.  Stand up straight.

giphy (8)

Step 2 – Control the Situation

You can not add stimulation until you have control of the current situation.  For example, how many times has someone knocked at your door, and your dog goes charging at the door, barking up a storm and causing a commotion…and you just open the door.  You didn’t control the situation, you added more chaos to the situation.  So don’t add to the chaos until you’ve controlled the current issue. Sometimes that may mean moving backward a couple steps.

For instance, when you go to answer the door.  You answer your dog’s questions using body language (“Mom, do you need help at the door?” No.  “Okay!” *sits down*), and they’ve accepted your answer to their question.  So you open the door…..

...And they see it's Grandma

…And they see it’s Grandma

Rather than inviting Grandma inside to “enjoy” this display of loving affection, ask her to wait a moment, close the door you just opened (thereby removing stimulation) and regain control of the situation.  Now you let her in.

Step 3 – Add Stimulation/Answer More Questions

You controlled the situation, so you were able to add more stimulation.  More questions will come up, (“Did you bring me anything, Grandma?!”) and more answer will have to be given.

So exactly how do you give your dog an answer?  Easy.  Remember, we’re using body language …their language.

To tell a dog “no”, simply pretend they are a lot taller, and you are trying to hit them with your belly button (pretend there’s a little laser beam coming out of your navel).  Stand up straight, and simply walk into them, with your feet like a letter “V” (so you don’t step on his toes!).  Don’t baby-step it.  You aren’t angry, but you aren’t timid either.  You are acting confident you have the right answer, which in this instance, happens to be “no”.

A better way to visualize is this:

If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it with his body language, as Polynesia the Parrot would tell you. If you do not want your dog to have it, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him, with the treat behind you. This means that you are “claiming” the treat. You can move into his personal space to back him off it a bit.  Once he’s engaged with you, nothing, or everything (in other words, engaged with anything but the treat), remove your strong body language by walking to the side or away from him. This shows him that he is giving you the correct response: accepting that the treat is yours. If he looks at your treat again, simply use the body language again.  (He’s a dog.  He’s allowed to ask a question more than once.)  Use the appropriate amount of body language for each question he’s asking.  For example, if he’s politely asking if he may have the treat, please don’t go charging at him like the Kool-Aid Man.

Unnecessary

Unnecessary

You can claim anything…the door, Grandma, even his behavior such as barking.  He’s asking a question: Can I bark?  The answer is “no”.  Simply move at him using the body language, until he ceases, even for a moment.  Yes, you may have to answer the same question over and over initially, but now you’re starting to communicate in a way he understands.

Communication.  That’s what a happy, healthy, trusting relationship is built on, regardless of the species.  Yelling and shouting, that’s not respect, that’s frustration.  But what if you could talk with the animals?  Answer your dog’s questions?  Well, that’s the basis of communication.  So start “talking” to your dog…in the way they understand.  Stop being human, and expecting human behavior from your dog.  Because they are already perfect the way they are, all they need is for you to see how they speak, and to start communicating.

Yes, you can “talk” to the animals.

 

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Stop Hammer Time: The Problem With Dominance Focused Training

From time to time, we here at Darwin Dogs love to have the thoughts and ideas of others expressed here through guest blog posts.  Today is a fellow trainer, Chris Ramsay, owner of Shaker Hound Academy. Today he shares his thoughts on dominance training.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.
-Yoda

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So, what kind of issues are you having with your dog?

Well, he thinks he’s alpha. And I need to be alpha.

(Shit. I have some work to do.But not with the dog, with the owner.)

Oh…OK. We’ll circle back to that. What kind of expectations do you have for you and your dog?

Well, he should do what I want, when I want. Immediately. No questions asked. That’s it. And right now he doesn’t. He bolts out the door. Pulls me on the walk. Takes food off the counter. Chews my shoes. Barks at the mail carrier. Jumps on my friends. It’s crazy. No matter how much I yell at him and punish him, he still does it.

So, he makes a bad decision and you ‘bring out the hammer’?

Hell yeah! He shouldn’t be doing any of that!  Am I right?

Yes. You are right. In that he shouldn’t be doing any of that. But, before he makes a bad decision, he’s going to tell you that he’s THINKING about making a bad decision. And *that’s* where you need to intervene to stop the undesired behavior.

You’re saying I need to be able to tell what my dog is thinking?

Yep.

And predict what he’s going to do?

Yep. Or minimum, that he’s in the decision making process.

How the hell do I do that?

You pay attention. And put more tools in your toolbox. Besides that big hammer of yours.

Let’s say you are having a great walk with your dogs. Walking around the neighborhood. They’re walking, sniffing, doing their business like a good dogs. Birds are chirping. Mrs. McGillicutty waves hello from her porch.And then suddenly, they turn off the sidewalk. And stop.Their bodies go stiff. They’re staring into a neighbor’s yard. Stop blinking. There is a squirrel at the base of a tree. They’re transfixed. For a brief period, you could put coffee cups (filled to the top) on their heads, and it wouldn’t spill. Now…what would you say they’re thinking?

We are tired. We need a rest.

No.

We really need to get home to finish our taxes.

No.

If we practiced our 3-point shots more, we could really do some damage from downtown.

Really?

Obviously, they’re telling you they are thinking about chasing that squirrel. Which is normal for dogs as they have millions of years of ancestors as excellent predators. “Apex predators” to be exact. But if you do nothing, if you say nothing, in the dog world, that’s approval. Give them approval, and they’ll run and yank the arm out of your socket every time.My friend and fellow trainer Kerry Stack of Darwin Dogs has a great explanation of this: dogs will constantly ask you questions during daily life. And if you don’t “Pilot” them, answer them AT THE TIME THEY ARE ASKING, they will provide their own answer. Most often, this is not the answer that you want.Military combat professionals have an term for this process: The OODA Loop…Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. And, believe it or not, it applies to dogs just as it does to humans. It’s a repeating loop that animals constantly go through when evaluating their world, especially when there is a stimulus involved. It’s worth looking up.
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For some dogs, this OODA Loop is big and elongated. They see something, keep meandering or don’t even break stride, decide that they don’t want to interact with it, the owner does nothing, and then the dog acts by going about their business. Rarely do I get calls from these owners.Other dogs, lots and lots of others, have a very tight OODA Loop. They see something (observe), and then face the thing they are focusing on (orient) quickly. The owner does nothing. The “decide” and “act” portions will come fast and furious. By the time the dogs hits the “act” portion of the loop, the owner is waaaaay behind the curve. And in reactive mode. I get plenty of calls from these owners.
Intervene at the “observe” or “orient” portions, and you are in proactive mode. And much more likely to have an impact on their behavior. In this immediate instance, and future ones.Want to see humans in the midst of an OODA Loop? Watch the Olympics, down hill skiing. Or boxing. Want to see a crazy tight OODA Loop? Watch table tennis. It’s so fast, you almost have to see it in slow motion to witness the speed around the Loop.Some dog trainers will just focus on bringing out the hammer on the act portion. Mess up? BOOM! You get the hammer! Do it again. I dare you. HAMMER! Again? BIGGER HAMMER!
In my opinion, good trainers will step in at the observe and orient portions in several proactive ways. And with various techniques (using multiple tools in their toolbox) can change the dog’s experience and thought processes to help them make good decisions BEFORE they get too far around the Loop. If you want to put numbers on it to make it easier,: 

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“Observe” would be a 1-2
“Orient”, 3-5
“Decide,” 6-8
“Act”, 9-10

 

One of the difficult things that owners have a hard time grasping is that between 1 and 5, the dog is typically quiet and usually still. They may vocalize at 6, but sometimes not. At 8, the dog is already on the edge to implementing their decision. Whether you like their decision or not. So if the owner is not paying attention, the dog is telling them that they are on their way around the Loop. Remember, no action by the owner is approval. Wait for them to bark and/or lunge and you have missed your opportunity.Being “alpha” is about dominance. Hammer wielding dominance. And, as it turns out, the creator of the term says not to use it any more because it doesn’t apply. Skeptical? Well, check out David Mech for yourself. He’s the guy who invented the term. And the #1 expert on wolves in the United States.
http://www.davemech.org/news.html

 

My advice? Picture yourself as a coach. A leader. An answerer of questions. Not as some pissed off warden with prisoners that need to obey, or else. Humans and dogs should act as a team. With a similar purpose. Aligned agenda. Constantly communicating. Working together towards a common goal. Is there a hierarchy in place? Yes. But not out of dominance. Or fear of the hammer.Pay attention. Guide them. And it will pay off in spades.

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Chris Ramsay, K-9 Specialist at Shaker Hound Academy, has been working with problem dogs (and their problem owners) since 2005. He is a “balanced trainer”, and has helped hundreds of owners achieve a more peaceful and productive relationship with their furry friends. He is based in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and services Cleveland’s east side neighborhoods.