I confess. I have done it. We are all guilty of it. Pet owners constantly say all kinds of things to their dogs; from commands, to baby talk, to full on monologues. But the thing is, no matter how soulfully they may look up at you, dogs are not born understanding English… or French, or German, or Chinese. They can learn words in any language, but they must be taught. However, most pet owners just automatically assume that their dog understands language and they forgo any kind of teaching process. Then frustration mounts because “the dog is not listening”. Sometimes people try the screaming or repetition method. Imagine if you yelled the word “WALK!” to a toddler and expected the child to understand before you held her little hands and showed her how to put one foot in front of the other. You might try saying the command over and over again, but you will most likely get the same result as when you push the elevator button over and over again; alas, it does not make the elevator come any quicker. You can say “Sit” over and over, but if you haven’t gone through a showing process with your dog, it won’t make her understand any quicker. The worst thing you can do in this situation is punish your dog. We can’t force them to understand. No amount of punishment can cure confusion.
How many times have you said to your dog, “You know better than that!”? Chances are she doesn’t know any better. Remember that dogs are expert observers of our behavior. They pick up on your energy and tone of voice. We naturally praise in a high pitch voice and punish in a low pitch voice. This is why if you scream at your dog for doing something you don’t like, she will most likely cower and seemingly understand what you are saying. She hears your low tone of voice, she senses your tense, negative energy, and she observes the hard look on your face.
You might just as well say “Good Girl!” in the exact same manner, and you would likely get the same cowering result.
The good news is that through basic obedience training, repetition, positive reinforcement, and consistency, you can actually teach your dogs some simple commands. I love it when after just a little training, I hear people say, “My dog is finally listening to me!” It’s not so much that they are finally listening to you; it’s that they finally understand what you are saying!
“My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.”
Certified Canine Trainer & Behavior Specialist
Professional Dog Training in Houston, TX