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Speak Less ... Let Your BODY Language Do The Talking To Your Dog

Updated: Jan 28

Humans LOVE talking to their dogs! But are words the most effective way to communicate?

Speaking with my dog

It may seem a glib point but your dog doesn’t speak English; in fact he or she doesn’t speak at all! Body language is your dog’s natural communication tool. That’s why, if you watch some of Dog Training ‘Greats’ like Kay Laurence, Helen Phillips, Chirag Patel, Michelle Pouliot and Kathy Sdao – you’ll notice they use very few words in dog training.

Instead they focus on careful hand signals and body positioning. The result? Clear communication, less frustration and a calm dog-human dynamic.

Talk To The Hand

Using lots of words can be confusing for dogs. They rarely understand all the noise coming out of our mouths, most of it is just that; and distracts Fido from the task at hand. For example, the dog owner who wants their dog to lie down and says:

“C’mon Fido, can you lie down for me, go on, lie down on the floor, you know how to lie down .... lie down ... DOWN!”.

As the word count increases so does the emotional charge! The two species become increasingly frustrated. An easier option could be to teach your dog a simple hand signal to indicate ‘lie down’. That way you speak your dog’s language – communication becomes silent but effective. Here’s a video of a dog responding to hand signals for ‘Wait’, ‘Down’, Sit’ and ‘Stand’ – no words just hand signals.

Body Talk

Dogs are masters at using body language (sadly most humans are pretty poor at understanding it!) Watch your dog and notice how they use their:

  • ear position,

  • tail position,

  • where their weight is centred,

  • their gait,

  • head turns to create space

  • eye position and gaze to indicate wants/needs

Most dogs are also pretty adept at reading human body language (when the human gives clear body cues!) In fact research shows our dogs watch how we stand, where our legs and feet are placed, our facial expressions, they follow our eye line and can distinguish between very subtle different hand movements as well as which hand we use.

Dog communication Silence iis Golden
This excellent pic is from that classic tune “Silence Is Golden” by The Tremeloes)

Look how Gerry reads my body language to locate the treat (which was secretly placed earlier without him seeing!). This time he responds to a hand signal to indicate whether he should turn (left or right) in order to retrieve the treat.

Next with lead walking, look how Gerry follows a hand target to get in to heel position (NB: I do NOT have food in my hand). And watch how Gerry responds when I slow my pace and pause – he also slows his pace and pauses – communication without words.

Whistle Or Words?

Doubtless some training exercises require sound – recall for example – but are lots of words necessary? A whistle is a great tool (if properly trained) and cuts through the air in away words rarely can. Plus it has a consistent meaning and less emotional fall out! If you use your dog’s name as a recall cue but also to tell him off, how do you think that might affect his responsiveness?! You probably use your dog’s name hundreds of times a day, is it any wonder it becomes white noise? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with chatting to your dog but if the goal is clear, calm communication then from your dog’s point of view, body language is a more useful tool. Perhaps silence really is ‘golden’ and maybe Ronan Keating’s ditty “You say it best, when you say nothing at all” is pause for thought?

This article was written by Joy Knowles. If you would like help training your dog, please contact us here.

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