Anyone and everyone who has a dog is a dog trainer, whether you see yourself that way or not. As a dog trainer, your most important tool is your voice. It’s also the tool least likely to be used effectively or even recognized as a tool by most folks engaged in trying to communicate with their dogs.
As people, in general, we are not focused and intentional when using our voice to communicate with our dog. We tend to talk more to ourselves in our dog’s presence, making human sounds understood by humans. This is a mistake. When you find yourself at the end of successfully training your dog, once he is past having any confusion about your expectations of him, you will find that your thoughts, eye contact, and possibly a brief auditory cue to elicit that eye contact is all that is required for him to understand you.
“Now, wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “Haven’t we talked repeatedly in the past about connecting with our dogs, and expressed the observation many of us experience that our dogs understand us when we talk to them?”
Yes, absolutely, when you are connected with your dog, he does understand you. But our mistake is in thinking that perhaps he understands the verbal language we use. When you think about it, language is a human construct developed to express thoughts and feelings. When you and your dog share your lives together every day, your dog comprehends your thoughts and feelings through a variety of cues such as scent, non-verbal or whistle cues, eye contact, body language, hand gestures, and your voice. Your inflection, tone of voice, and pitch all communicate thoughts to your dog.
The question is, how do you get to that point with your dog? The hardest part of dog training is not about training your dog, it is about training ourselves. It is a journey of self-awareness and self-observation. We need to learn to be conscious and intentional about our feelings and the vocal sounds we make when we engage with our dogs.
The first place to start for anyone striving to be a good dog trainer is to realize that your voice, body language, and eye contact are ultimately the only tools you need to communicate with your dog. If your bond is strong, your dog will monitor your every move, thought and feeling. He will search your eyes and watch your body language, racing to interpret what you will ask of him- often right as you are thinking it. How you use your voice, or not, will determine how much your dog pays attention to you and your expectations.
When that essential bond and connection isn’t established first, there are a number of band-aids that trainers will use to try and shore up the authority of their voice. These attempts range from treats in treat pouches hung on the belt to mega-distance whistles and clicker devices. An aspiring new trainer also has a range of modern electronic tools promising to help you forge a connection with your dog when your voice isn’t making it. While some of these tools can actually have real value later in your dog training adventure, the essential connection to your voice must come first.
When I am working with new dog trainers, this is always the first place we start. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. Once you, as an aspiring trainer, understand that and embark on the journey of self-awareness, self-observation and discovery, an entire new world of connecting and communicating with your dog will open up to you. As this is a huge topic, we will be re-visiting it in future podcasts.
Meanwhile, I am available for online training consultation as well as in-person training sessions. Please check out https://freerangedogs.com and check out what we have to offer for you and your dog. You both deserve it!