I know it seems like I contradict myself sometimes…I know it can be confusing to hear many different and opposing pieces of information but try to stay with me just a little bit longer…
I have spent several articles advising folks about over-touching their dogs. Interference with an animal’s energy force should never be taken lightly or undertaken mindlessly. The space around us is intensely personal and should always be treated respectfully but today I am going to talk about when it is entirely appropriate to touch your dog and why it is simply the best way to communicate with him.
I do not care how many studies are done on canine intelligence…dogs are not talkers. They do not compose sentences and they are entirely unable to interpret most of the nonsense that we direct at them. Yes, they can absolutely translate a series of sounds linked to actions that let them know it is dinner time! Yes, they can tell when you are going on a walk or when you are leaving the house without them but they cannot discuss the relative benefits of dog foods or communicate exactly where they have a hurt.
So, to all intents and purposes, sitting down with your dog and explaining what you would like him to do is largely useless.
So I TOUCH my dog. I move him with my hands into a position I require and then praise him. I do this again and again and again until he realizes that being in this position is pleasing to me and he will start to move into this position on his own. Sometimes I will give him a food reward to really show my approval and sometimes just a “Good Boy” will do. Endlessly repeating “sit, sit, sit is not going to communicate any more effectively that you want him to place his butt on the ground. Show him once. When he has found the right place then I will “twin” this movement with a sound…”sit” or “heel” or “down”. And we are on our way to responding to a command prompted by a verbal cue. But first I must show him what I want.
My dog is barging through the door ahead of me, almost knocking me over and just about taking the screen door off its hinges so, Instead of yelling, “No!!!” I will put him on leash, take him back through the door and as the door opens, I will move my left leg in front of him swiftly and block him from passing me…All you basketball players know what a block is don’t you? At the same time, you can ask him to “wait” but really, the physical message is sufficient.
Instead of dragging your dog back from his leading position on the leash, try quickly turning away from him or even better, turn into him and turn. He will quickly learn to pay attention to what you are about to do and either follow you or move out of your way!! All without a word. Try crouching , looking happy and clapping your hands to get your dog to come back to you. Try keeping very still when you want him to be still. These are simple physical communications that your dog can understand. See how much communication you can achieve without any chatter and notice how much more attention your dog pays to you.
After all, when you go to the treat jar to lift the lid, the information is implicit, right?
And make sure that when you do not have anything to say to your dog, you try to leave his personal space intact until you really think the communication is meaningful. He may even start listening more and he will certainly be more appreciative of your touch when you do make contact.
Every dog, like every human, has a different level of tolerance to physical contact. You will need to adjust the amount of pressure you use to touch your dog, with his personality and remember ALL physical contact with your dog should be undertaken in a calm and mindful way, even if it is a strong contact!
Keep pressure brief and use a steady hand to settle.We all love to be touched…Sometimes. Try to make sure you have an intention in mind when you next reach your hand out!
– Janine Lazarus, HashtagWV #92. August 2017. Janine is a dog trainer at Goodladd Dog Training, goodladd.net.