What we say to our dogs is important, but the way we say it is crucial. Our tones and body language give our pets clues about whether we are giving commands, correcting bad behavior or lavishing them with praise for a job well done. By knowing what cues you are giving your pet, you can communicate better, reduce behavioral problems and strengthen the bond you share with your furry friend.
One of the cardinal rules of talking to your dog is to offer commands in a strong, firm voice. The most effective way to give a command is to say your dog’s name first so he knows you’re speaking to him. Even before asking him to sit or stay, however, you should teach your dog to look at you when asked. To do this, trace a line from your pet’s eyes to yours using your pointer finger or a treat. Once your dog holds eye contact with you for several seconds, reward him with a praise and the treat. Be consistent when giving commands and always reinforce good behavior with plenty of praise. Dogs use body language to communicate, too, so be sure to stand tall and act confident when asking your pet to perform a command.
Of course, our pets don’t always listen. When correcting your dog’s misbehavior, use a lower-pitched tone and short-clipped words. Once Fido has learned what a command means, do not simply repeat the command, but instead correct him with “No” followed by the command. If your dog continues to ignore you, place him in the instructed position. When he’s done what you’ve asked, be sure to reward him with praise, speaking in tone that is enthusiastic— but not so much that it drives Fido into a frenzy.
Humans and dogs use a whole different series of body language and you should be aware of this when communicating with your pet, too. If you’re telling your dog to stop barking, for example, remain calm and stand tall—an overly excited owner giving this command will only send mixed messages to his pet. Be careful not to loom over your dog, lock him in direct eye contact, or grip him in a tight hug, which can be seen as threats. Greet your dog with a hand he can sniff rather than a pat on the head, which can give Fido the impression you’re about to strike him. If you have an anxious or timid pet, you can even try licking your lips or yawning while looking away, which are appeasement gestures in dog-speak, and speaking in a higher-pitched, soothing tone.