Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What are you asking your dog?

I'm always surprised at how regular people talk to their dogs. Recently I saw a video of  a woman who was asking her dog if he wanted to go for a walk. Then she complained when the dog "didn't want" to go for the walk. Um. Are you kidding me?
The only thing we ask Zander is if he knows how handsome he is. Isn't he fabulous?

Sometimes folks ask me for dog training tips. Here's an easy one for you, don't ask our dog what he wants - tell him what you want him to do. If you are having trouble with your dog, it could be the way you are talking to him. Remember that your dog is looking to you to lead the pack.  You can read all about it in Be the Pack Leader: Use Cesar's Way to Transform Your Dog . . . and Your Life. The big idea is that you, not the dog, need to be in charge. Part of being in charge is providing instruction. Part of providing instruction is to do it in a clear, confident, strong voice.

One of the things people like best about dogs is that they seem to understand us.  But they probably aren't listening to the words we are using- except for, your know, "Hey here are some snacks", "Dinner time", and "Look! Chicken hearts!" I'm pretty sure much of what dogs "hear" from us has more to do with the tone of our voice, our accompanying body language, and other non verbal communication. The more I work with our dogs to teach them non-verbal commands, the more obvious this is to me.

Zander is still a big goof. At a little over six months old, we forget he's still a baby.

I'm naturally bossy so I've never had a problem with telling the dogs what to do. So when I see people who have problems with their dog following commands my question is, are you asking that dog or telling him? Does your voice go up at the end like you are asking a question? Are you speaking firmly and with authority? Are you looking at the dog directly? What words are you using?

Passed out after a hard day of doing evil deeds. Check out how big he is!

Anyone who's worked with the general public on the phone knows that if a call gets out of hand the best thing to do is to physically stand up. Even tho the person can't see you your posture and tone will change and this comes thru in your voice. Similarily, sales people are taught to smile even if they are on the phone. The person on the other end will "hear" this change in the salesperson's voice and have a more pleasant experience.

You can use this same kind of "trick" with your dog. Stand up tall, use a deeper version of your speaking voice, pretend you are the king and the dogs are your loyal subjects. Use this newly imagined royal authority to issue proclamations. Your dog will see these kind of changes when you issue commands and respond to them.

If you say in a mild, questioning voice, "Well Mr. Woofy-woof, do you wanna go for a walk?" Your dog will probably just ignore you or maybe roll over in his dog bed. But if you say firmly, "Lets go! We are going for a walk!" He'll probably get up and follow you to the door.

This isn't to say that you should stand there and scream at your dog. If you've ever seen an out of control parent yelling at their kid, you know that approach will only work for so long. But if you've ever seen a parent lean over to a naughty child, and say firmly and just under their breath, "I'm telling you to stop that right now"  - then you know what I'm talking about. There is a difference between berating your dog (or your kid) and getting his attention.

And you don't have to bark orders at your dog all the time. We use plenty of friendly, animated talk with our dogs. And lots of snuggly-wuggly-I-wuv-you's... But not when we are working or if I need them to do something. Using a different tone in your voice between "work" and "play" will help your dog tell the difference between the two. If your dog knows the difference he will be more effective in helping you.

How you behave physically also makes a difference to your dog. Are you self assure and confidant? Does your physical bearing command respect? Do you stride boldly? Or do you meekly make your way around? Do you let your dog push you out of the way at the door or pull you when on a leash? If that's the case you need to stop it right now. You can't have the tail wagging the dog and expect good results. If your dog is wagging you then you need to run right out and find a good dog trainer. Actually you need a people trainer to teach YOU how to be in command of that dog.

Obedience in dogs is probably more about the owner then it is with the dog. Dogs want a job, they want to help, and they want you to be the leader. As the owner you need to show the dog you are a good leader by being confident in the way you talk to your dog.

Smart dogs, given the chance, we start making their own decisions. If they don't have a clear sense of who's the boss they will assume its themselves, not you. Speaking to your dog and issuing commands in a strong voice will reinforce your position as the leader.

So what do you think? Is your dog wagging you? Are you the boss of your dog? What are you doing - or not doing - that is causing success or failure with your hard workin' farm dog?

Happy Monday everyone! Now get out there and be the boss of your dog!


KatB said...

I really like these posts - you make it sound so simple, that I'm bookmarking them all to read later when I invest in a LGD. :)

Big Onion said...

Of our five, we have three herding dogs (Shetland sheepdogs) that respond really well to "pressure". Leaning forward, a strong glare, and as strong as presence as I can muster. Nova, the goofiest of them all (who kind of herds by going "wheeeeee" and sometimes running over the flock of ducks) I can get to leave a room just by looking at her and tilting my head forward. Sometimes watching K with the dogs is really impressive (she's the trainer). She can usually get them to drop into a down just by raising her hand from 30 yards away. It's very cool. But I think that sensitivity to pressure is something common in Shelties. My American Bulldog/boxer mix (whatever he is) isn't quite that responsive. And the yorkie only listens if you have food on you.

I think the important thing is that your dog knows the difference in tone in your voice. If you constantly yell at your dog then there's no where to go if you're already at the top -- if there's an emergency, you want that dog to know that "LIE DOWN" means drop the eff down and don't you dare move, rather than something with a bit more ease to it.

freemotion said...

Woof! Preach it, Sista!

Coco said...

That Zander is one handsome dog, even if he is still a teenager.

I can´t wait to have dogs, but I´m concerned about whether or not to get a puppy or if an older dog would be OK around livestock (chickens to start with).

Were your dogs small when you started? I love your dog posts, they´re so informative and encouraging.

Chai Chai said...

Hey, psst, Zander - come here. You have the nerve to call yourself the Bone Crusher or the namesake of Alexander the Great or Hannible Barka (Barca)?

Listen pal, take a look at how the other half live. While you're outside getting bossed around we are inside living it up on canned food and scraps.


If you want to join up and be part of MY posse then I need you to do something. My lead servant, huh, yeah, the one that bosses you around. She has a small box that she stares into and then tickles it with her fingers. I want you to grab the cord that is attached to it and chew it up. She uses that box to control the minds of your fellow dogs!


There is no escape! Don't make me destroy you. Zander, you do not yet realize your importance. You've only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the barn yard.

Zander, you can destroy OFG. She has foreseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the barn yard as Nicholas and follower! Come with me. It is the only way......

small farm girl said...

LOL!!! You had better watch that Chi Chi! lol. I'm glad you posted this. I couldn't agree with you more. My sister's dog is very unresponsive when it comes to commands. If you seen how she treats her, you would understand. Her dog REALLY controls the house hold. It's a shame.

David said...

I'm with Kristen, making notes in the "future" book.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks Kristen! I think its easy b/c I'm bossy ;-)

BigO - that is a great point about not being on "scream" mode all the time. I'd love to see K in action!

Thanks Free! Woof!

Hi Coco! Thanks - we think Zander is the business. We started with VERY young pups - much younger than most folks should. Be we had experience and we knew that our "pack" would socialize the pups like their momma would. This helped us guide their personalities but right now Z is in his "hell yeah" phase - which will last thru the summer. All the puppy parenting in the world can't turn that off so we are relentless in our discipline. Pups are a LOT of work and some folks dont enjoy it at all. I believer you can teach an old dog new tricks so if that is better for you, then thats just fine. Rescue organizations may have some good ideas for you or you can look for owners who cant keep their well trained "country" dog anymore. :-)

CC - i'll deal with you later...

SFG - we see that all the time and frankly are shocked by it. Those kind of shenanigans wouldnt fly around her at all. "Bad" dog owners are usually pretty surprised when I get my hands on their "bad" dog - usually they just need instruction and boundaries.

Thanks Dave! :-)

Ohiofarmgirl said...

And now.. for Chai Chai....

I have to say... I dont have anything to say other than, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!"

I can't even come up with a zinger b/c its already perfect, so I take off my hat to you.



Chai Chai said...

You know you want to see what this video has to do with what Nickolas can teach Zander!


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