How Does My Dog Learn?

How you deliver any communication is vital. Dogs are very perceptive and not only listen to what you say and how you say it but they also ‘read’ the energy within the communication and, from this, will either accept or reject the instruction. Let’s be clear, what you say (words) is for your benefit not your dog’s. Dogs are action orientated. 

To a dog, for an instruction to be readily accepted then the sound, vision and energy combined need to be collectively congruent. If anything seems out of sync to your dog then you may be inadvertently giving your dog a mixed message which may confuse it. Added to this is the dog’s previous experiences of similar communication and outcomes will shape how your dog will interpret and react to the message in keeping with its own survival values.  

As communication is so important I have broken down the 5 key elements for optimum delivery of any communication to your dog. I have called this the 5 Cs. The 5 Cs are a method of instruction delivery that will resonate with your dog and allow it, if done well, to trust in you almost unconditionally. The 5 Cs are Calm, Confident, Controlled, Consistent and Concise. I will now break this down and explain why this communication style is so effective for dogs.

Calm: Calmness resonates well with dogs as it allows them to focus on the message you wish to deliver rather than the energy or emotion which can, if high, be viewed as an ‘alert’ cue. A calm leader is one to be listened to. This is as true for humans as it is for dogs. This is especially crucial if you have a pessimistic dog as they will look to mirror their guardian by default due to the lack of internal confidence that they have.

Confident: In order to ensure that your dog wholly trusts in you and does not try to fill in the gaps then you need to be confident and assured in the delivery of your message. This gives your dog the security that you have everything in hand and that it does not need to worry about anything. You should be the protector of your dog and not vice versa. Once your dog understands this it will take guidance from you more readily and willingly.

Controlled: The key here is for your dog not to think but to do. For this to be achieved you need to ensure that your body language is definitive, matches your verbal language and that your energy is in keeping with being calm and confident. If not, then the instruction you are trying to deliver will be incongruent and your dog will pick up on this and treat your instruction with caution and suspicion. Dogs are very, very perceptive and always assess the whole picture to ensure that sound, sight, smell and feel (energy) are consistent with their expectations.

Consistent: Although dogs are context based, whereby they can, in some cases, internalise different rules for different people, for best results they need to understand that there are no exceptions, whatsoever, ensuring that there is no confusion in what is required. If you occasionally allow something to happen that you normally would not or constantly change the rules then you cannot blame your dog if it misbehaves because, in its mind, the rules of engagement are flexible.

Concise: Verbal and visual information should always be clear and easily distinguishable from other (background) sights and sounds. This is especially important when in training mode. Information (both visual and verbal) that is clear and concise will always stand the best chance of being ‘received’ by your dog and being (correctly) acted upon. Verbal chatter is commonplace for us humans but not so much for our dogs. If you want a certain outcome from your dog it is important that you ‘talk with purpose’ and remove superfluous sounds from your interactions with your dog. 

If you adopt and use the 5 Cs then you should be able to guide and help your dog adapt to this strange and crazy world. Within the 5 Cs consistency is key and I have underlined this element due to its importance. Even if the message we give to our dog is the same but the style of delivery differs then there is absolutely no guarantee that our dog will understand, accept and/or interpret this correctly.

To get the best results you need to be an ‘inspiring’ and ‘incentivising’ teacher else it is going to be a long and tortuous journey for both you and your dog. You may still get the end results you crave but you would have done it the hard way and, I would guess, you had to revert to the style of a Drill Sergeant barking instructions more times than you would care to remember. I am not a fan of authoritarianism and I suspect neither is your dog. 

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