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7 Keys for Canine Communication

Hey guys, Ryan King here from OzcorpK9.

As I was training with a client this week, we stopped to adjust the communication that we were pretraining into their dog. It reminded me of the importance in asking ourselves...

1. "Are We Unintentionally Confusing Our Dogs?"

Confusion can be a significant roadblock in your dog's training progress. When we send mixed signals, it can lead to the development of unwanted behaviours, as the dog tries to interpret the inconsistent messages. This confusion often results in anxiety, frustration, and stress in our dogs, as they struggle to understand what's expected of them.

Over time, these adverse effects can have a serious long-term impact on their mental health. A chronically stressed dog may develop fear or aggression issues, become overly shy or withdrawn, or display obsessive behaviours. Additionally, it can severely damage the unique bond of trust and understanding that should exist between a dog and their owner.

Here are some quick examples to help clarify:

  • Inconsistent Commands: Using different words for the same command can be puzzling for dogs. For example, using "down" to mean both "lie down" and "get off the furniture".

  • Sending Mixed Signals: If you're telling your dog "no" while laughing or smiling, your dog might not take the command seriously. They read your body language and tone more than your words.

  • Lack of Routine: Dogs thrive on routine. Frequently changing feeding times, walk times, or suddenly changing their environment can cause confusion and stress.

  • Expecting Too Much Too Soon: Training takes time and patience. Expecting your dog to learn a new command or trick after just a few tries is unrealistic and can lead to confusion.

  • Over-Engaging or Under-Engaging: While it's important to spend quality time with your dog, overwhelming them with constant attention or neglecting their need for stimulation can lead to behavioural issues. Dogs need a balance of play, training, and rest.

2. The Complexity of Canine Communication Imagine being in a foreign country, trying to understand a language you've never heard before. That's how our dogs feel when we're not clear with our cues. Just like us, they thrive on clear communication - but, sometimes, without realising it, our actions or words might convey a completely different message than what we intend them to.

3. Observing and Learning: The Canine Way Dogs are not just our loyal companions; they're also keen observers. They're constantly watching us, picking up on our body language, our tone of voice, and even sensing our mood. A slight change in our behaviour, and they might interpret it as a new command or a change in routine. This inconsistency can lead to confusion and unwanted behaviours.

4. Tug of War: The Science of Opposition Reflex Remember the last time you tried to pull your dog away from something and they pulled back even harder? This is a natural instinct in dogs called opposition reflex. Being aware of this reflex is crucial, especially during leash training. Instead of pulling them away, try redirecting their attention. It's all about working with their instincts, not against them.

The opposition reflex is a deeply ingrained instinct in dogs, and many other animals, rooted in their evolutionary biology. Scientifically, it's a reflex action triggered when an animal perceives a force pulling against it. The animal instinctively reacts by applying an equal force in the opposite direction, hence the term "opposition reflex".

Psychologically, the opposition reflex plays a vital role in an animal's survival mechanisms. In the wild, the reflex is crucial for escaping predators or dangerous situations. For instance, if an animal is caught in a trap, the opposition reflex initiates a powerful pull in the opposite direction, facilitating escape.

5. The Emotional Connection: How Our Feelings Influence Our Dogs One of the most eye-opening discussions I have with clients is about how our emotions travel down the leash. Picture this: You're out on a walk, and you spot another dog approaching, so you tense up, anticipating your dog's reaction - but did you know, this very anticipation might be cueing your dog to react? They can sense our anxiety, and it can make them more uncertain, reactive, or anxious.

Consider the typical scenario where you take your dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, a small dog goes running past and they lunge after it, pulling hard on the leash. Your instinctive response is to yank the leash back, but remember, this triggers your dog's opposition reflex. Instead of subduing him, your action magnifies his desire to chase, turning a simple walk into a chaotic tug of war.

Also, let's say during the walk you're particularly tense because of a stressful day at work. Remember, your emotions can influence your dog's behaviour as he can sense your stress, and it might make him more anxious or reactive, anticipating some unseen threat.

Instead, use the knowledge you now have about canine communication. Relax and take a breath. Being calm will reassure your dog. Then, rather than pulling back on the leash, try to redirect their attention towards you. This is what we teach owners how to do in training.

6. Consistency: The Golden Rule of Dog Training Whether it's a command, a gesture, or a daily routine, consistency is the key. Dogs thrive on routine and clear instructions. Changing the rules midway not only confuses them but can also hinder their learning process, which is why it's always best to start on the right track.

Consistency in training is not just about repeating the same command or action; it's about maintaining a stable environment and a predictable set of behaviours for your dog to understand. When you're consistent, you're helping to create a world that makes sense to your dog. Dogs, like humans, are creatures of habit. They feel safe and secure when they know what to expect and what is expected of them.

A consistent training program means having a specific set of rules, establishing a routine, and sticking to it. Consistency requires patience. It might seem repetitive and time-consuming, but it's the most effective way to ensure your dog understands and responds correctly to your commands. Above all, it fosters a bond of trust and understanding between you and your dog, making for a harmonious living environment.

7. Seeking Clarity in Training If ever in doubt, seek clarity. Whether it's a new training method you've come across or a command you're unsure about, always strive for clarity. It could be from a book, advice from fellow dog owners, or professionals like me. The clearer we understand these principles for ourselves, the easier it is for our dogs to understand us, and the better the end result.

When seeking clarity, it's essential to look out for clear and effective training systems. A good trainer will patiently explain their training methods, ensuring you understand the rationale behind each technique. They should also demonstrate each exercise clearly and effectively, so you can replicate it at home.

I hope this article has shed some light on the subtle ways we might be confusing our dogs. Building a strong bond with our dogs is a journey, and effective communication is the cornerstone of this relationship. So, always strive for clarity and consistency in your interactions. Feel free to catch on episode 3 of our Walk & Talks to watch me talk about this topic!

Just remember that our team is always here to help, so If you have any questions or need advice, don't hesitate to reach out. Until next time, happy training, and let's continue this amazing journey of understanding and bonding! - Ryan King.

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