Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Capitalizing on common phrases

Think about your daily interactions with your dog. Are there things you usually say during certain situations?
There probably are.
For instance, do you tell your dog to be good while you’re gone before you walk out the door to work every morning? Do you ask your dog if he’s hungry before dinner time?
Becoming aware of the vocabulary you already use with your dog is one big step toward improving the communication between you and your dog.
I have a lot words and phrases that I use with Sensi that, nearly seven years later, Sensi has learned to understand without me having put in any active training to teach him.
Here’s a few —
“Let’s go” for any sort of forward motion when I desire that he be moving with me.
“Be good, we’ll be home later,” for when he is left at home alone.
“Breakfast?” and “Dinner?” for obvious situations.
“Go potty” for urination.
“Lay down over there” for when we want him to move to a different section of the couch, eye-contact and some hand gestures are also part of this one.
“Other side” for when I want him to switch the side of his body he is laying on — this is especially handy for and grew out of ear cleaning.
“Get back” for when I want him to take a few steps back from an area.
If you use the same phrases with consistency in the same situations, your dog will make associations with those phrases over time. For instance, when you say “Dinner” your dog knows food will be put in his bowl.
Or, when you say “Go potty” your dog will know you want him to relieve himself.
Be sure to make the distinction that this is not training. You cannot say phrases to a dog and expect him to react just how you had planned, nor should you punish a dog for not reacting how you thought it should.
If you want the dog to take exactly three steps back each time you say “Get back” then you need to do some active training to teach the dog exactly that.
So then, what is the purpose of recognizing and re-using the same phrases with your dog?
If your dog has a set of expectations that go along with a phrase which is commonly used by you, that’s a good thing. It’s communication.
Our dogs, I believe, want to communicate with us and try to communicate with us just as much as we try to communicate with them. The problem is, we just don’t speak the same language.
But, dogs are perfectly capable of making associations between our vocal phrases and situations. In fact, they’re always making those associations.
I’m just advocating that we help them make those associations by becoming aware of phrases we commonly use and using them with consistency in the same situations.
It’s a bit like giving them a road map to navigate around our households with, and who doesn’t want to know where they’re going?


  1. I think you bring up a very good point that many dog owners don't leverage to their advantage!

    It's amazing thing to have your dog really understand what you're saying to him/her. I love that our dog knows when she's supposed to go outside to pee. Or to go get a specific toy to keep her busy if she's bored.

  2. I agree. I think the greatest challenge and reward of dog ownership is fostering communication with your dog. Just the idea that we can effectively communicate with an entirely different species is really what makes the dog-human bond so special, I think.