Teaching your dog the meaning of a range of words strengthens your bond through communication and collaboration.

One of the first things I learned about dog training was that you never asked a dog to do something; you told him. But now I understand that our desire to control dogs by telling them what to do is undermining their ability to control themselves. Telling a dog what to do means he doesn’t have to think, and when circumstances arise that require thought – when you’re not there, for example — the dog is panicked, thus reducing his self-confidence. Conversely, asking a dog to do something allows him to cognitively process the request and formulate an appropriate response, thus permitting him a sense of self-determination and increasing his confidence. Asking also invokes collaboration and enhances your bond …..

It might seem as if asking would be less effective than using formal cues or commands. But let’s remember the important influence of the dog-human bond. Simply stated, a strong bond gives dogs the motivation to behave in ways that will please us. So if the bond is there, when you ask, your dog will say yes if at all possible.

Communicating our asks

While our goal is to have dogs who are primarily self-directed, we need a way to communicate our asks as we expand their knowledge of potentially appropriate behaviors. In addition, there will always be times when we must directly ask our dogs to do something for us or with us. The easiest way to accomplish this is to teach our dogs enough of our language to allow them to understand simple requests. When teaching dogs language, think of splitting things up into verbs, those asks that involve a change in demeanor or position, and nouns, the labels we use to denote certain individuals, places, and things. Because dogs are learning new words and associations in what is to them a very foreign language, we must remember to be extremely patient.

Verbsbuilding a bond

The verbs we want to teach dogs fall into several categories. Here are the groupings and verbs I use:

Demeanor changes

Playtime means being wildly excited and playful.

Settle means calming down

Patience means waiting quietly for a moment or two.

Relax means settling down for an extended period of time.

Gentle means being careful when using your mouth or paws.

Combination demeanor and action changes

Visit means placing your chin in someone’s hand or lap.

Easy means walking slowly and without pulling on the leash.

Freeze means being still and letting someone come to you.

Positive changes or actions

Touch means lightly pressing your nose into a designated spot.

Come means moving closer to someone.

Go means moving away from someone.

Better hurry means eliminate now.

Watch means focus on someone.

Trade means giving someone what you have and getting something in return even if it’s just a simply “Thank you” or a scratch on the chest.

Nouns and labelsbuild a bond with words

Teach your dog labels for common objects, places or individuals, including:

His or her name

You name

Name of others in the household

Name of his safe zone, such as his bed or cubby

Name of his favorite toys

Teaching your dog his vocabulary words

The best learning sessions are short ones so plan on working only for five to ten minutes at a time before taking a play or rest break. As soon as your dog’s enthusiasm seems to be waning, stop for the day. Learning needs to be fun! I enjoy doing quick sessions of only a minute or two with our dogs many times a day….

Most of the verbs above can be taught by demonstrating the meaning for your dog and asking him to replicate your behavior…. [for example]:

Playtime: Let yourself go wild. Jump up and down, spin, dance, or dash from side to side, saying “Playtime!” excitedly. As your dog starts to get playful, note his success with “Yay you!”

Settle: After demonstrating excitement for a moment, suddenly relax your body and be still. As you calm down, lightly cup your hand on the side of your dog’s face and ask him to calm down by saying “Settle” in a soothing voice. Your gentle touch on the side of your dog’s face will act as a physical prompt to synchronize with you by calming momentarily.

Patience: Patience can easily be taught by pausing yourself before taking certain actions, such as crossing all indoor-to-outdoor thresholds…. With your dog by your side on leash, pause before going through a doorway while saying, “Patience”. You can also teach the meaning of Patience by asking your dog to pause a moment before eating or chasing a ball. Be prepared to physically block access to his bowl or ball until he knows what Patience means. The social component of this works best if you make the same action following being patient as you dog does, so try to set up learning situations where you can eat when he east or run after the ball when he does.


Excerpted from Love is All You Need: The Revolutionary Bond-Based Approach to Educating Your Dog by Jennifer Arnold.
Copyright ©2016 by Jennifer Arnold
Published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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