Dog whisperering… not what you think!
Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, you may either have your hackles up, right now, after reading the title or you’re thrilled to think I’m going to write about Cesar Millan. Read on, because this is not about Millan…phew, but is about literally, whispering to your dog.
Challenge for the day!
Whisper or talk using only your body language and see what happens. You’ll find out how much you chatter to your dog, meaningless words and wonder why she tunes you out. A wonderful surprise may be that your dog pays closer attention because she’ll have to rely on your body language (her first language), or listen much more closely, because you are literally whispering; as softly as you can.
This is the tip of the iceberg in training. If you aren’t aware of your own body language and energy around dogs you will have very little idea what kind of teaching your dog needs. Your dog is responding to your body language first, secondarily, to the words coming out of your mouth. It’s very interesting to listen to how many people talk to their dogs, as if they are deaf, when the reality is, that a dogs hearing is over 100,000 times greater than humans. So, why are we yelling at dogs? You know when you speak to someone who speaks a foreign language, you speak louder to them? They aren’t deaf and neither are dogs; yet we tend to enunciate our words and speak much louder than when we speak to someone who speaks our native language.
I love this cartoon because it speaks brilliantly to how we relate to dogs. We are relating to a different species entirely, yet we are relating to them as if they are human. We aren’t considering the fact that they speak dog, not our native language. We haven’t taken the time to learn their language; which is body language. Dogs read us very well and it’s high time we learn to read them and teach them the way they learn. Not learning to read dog body language and speak in a softer normal tone of voice, (whisper), when we do speak to them is why trainers have jobs, people get bitten, they don’t pay attention to you, they are destructive, they play chase when you are trying to call them to you and the list goes on. It’s a total disconnect without this understanding and awareness.
Let’s dissect this cartoon. Our friend with the glasses is clearly in a reactive state; pointing fingers, yelling, bending over/leaning forward, big energy. The dog is sitting there trying to figure out what this man is saying. Is this dog just sitting there calmly listening to his owner letting it blow over his head, tuning him out? If you said YES, you are wrong. Everything in this dogs’ body language is saying “I”m stressed, confused” Direct eye contact, alert forward ears, closed mouth, wondering whether to flee or retreat, but by no means calm and relaxed. If the dog did something offensive to the owner, like take a sock or not come when called and this is the reaction of it’s owner, don’t you think the dog may not want to ever come when called or try to make a game out of getting the sock to perhaps change the tone of the owner and get a game of chase going? Dogs do things to engage us and if we don’t know who we are being or how to read a dog’s body language, we’ll have little success with a healthy and trusting relationship with dogs.
Try using body language, only for 2 hours, while you’re interacting with your dog. If you find yourself in his face trying to get his attention, then you’re a prime example a relationship where your dog who has learned to tune you out. A true bond is when your dog has you in his field of vision or range of hearing, at all times. Dogs live and breathe for our connection. We are their world.
Pay attention to these things and let me know how you did.
- What is your facial expression when interacting with your dog?
- Is it hard not to talk?
- Do you have big energy?
- Is your energy relaxed and calm?
- Are you reactive?
- What did you notice in your dog?
- Do you use your hands a lot or a little?
- When you ask your dog to do something what is your body doing? What position are you in when asking your dog to COME to you?
- When walking on the leash, how are you holding the leash; tension, no tension?
- What do you do when you see a dog approaching while walking on the leash?
- What do you do when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
- What is your dog doing when you stop to speak to a neighbor? Are you even aware of your dog?
- What else did you observe about using your own body language with your dog?
- What did you notice when you whispered to your dog?
- Was it hard to speak softly?
- When you did speak softly, did you notice any changes in your dogs demeanor/body language?
I have a one year old Labrador, KYLE in training to be a Therapy Dog. He came 3 days ago. He’s not had any training and his a wild and very happy puppy. He’s bouncing off the walls with abandon. My goal is to keep the exuberance and enthusiasm, but channel it into more acceptable behaviors by teaching manners and getting some appropriate exercise and lots of good rest. He jumps, grabs clothes, grabs and holds my arm, squirms for putting the leash on, is overly playful with my dogs not respecting any of their ‘go away’ signals, grabs toys out of my hand, pulls on the leash, chews on the leash…. get it?! Completely out of control and a very destructive chewer. So, my plan is to get quiet, be more like a dog. When teaching, I’ll whisper. I am using my dogs as teachers for calmness and focus and he’s learning from them. Yes, dogs learn from each other and copy their behaviors and why they can become less anxious or excited if we calm our own energy down. I’m whispering because he’s so excitable and it is helping him to relax. Even my praise is calm and soothing, helping him stay focused on me, while seeing my dogs focusing on me. This morning when I was offering treats to all the dogs, he was trying to grab the treats out of my hand while offering it to one of my dogs. He was in their faces, each of them and trying to grab them from them out of my hand. This evening, he was much better and more focused. No correction was needed, just taking the treat away until he stopped trying to take it, when it wasn’t his turn.
Dog whispering is simply, connecting with dogs by learning how to read their body language and becoming keenly aware of both you and your dogs emotional states, expressed in body language. Relying simply on your body language should prompt a whole slew of new awarenesses, that you had no idea possessed when relating to your dog. This awareness could raise the bar to the connection you have with your dog because you are now actually speaking in a language your dog can understand. It’s not magic, it’s awareness and understanding.
Once you’ve become more aware of who you’re being, try this… As you begin to speak to your dog, whisper. Literally, whisper the cues, even use sentences rather than single commands, with and without hand signals and see how much more attentive your dog will be to you. This takes practice. Learning to understand body language, yours and your dogs can be the connection you’ve longed for and will be life changing for both of you.
Let me know how it goes.
About the author: Jill Breitner, is a professional dog trainer, award winning author, writing articles for Dogster, The Whole Dog Journal, Animal Wellness and her own blog. She is also a dog body language expert, loving and living her life on the west coast of the USA. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language recommended and used by veterinarians, shelters, trainers, educators and guardians worldwide. It’s available in iTunes and Google play. Jill, is Fear Free Certified and has been teaching gentle handling/basic husbandry skills to clients dogs for 40 years. She helps you to be your pets advocate for a happier and stress free life. She also does online dog training, worldwide. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page