Sprechen Sie dachshund? Dogs and language: Part 2
By Jon Bastian
Last time, we asked you to spend a week giving commands in a language your dog doesn’t know. This time around, you get to communicate with your dogs in a language you thought you didn’t know.
Silence Is Golden
The instructions for this week are simpler, but also more difficult. For one week, use all your usual commands on your dog, but… you cannot say a word. You can use gestures, posture, and facial expressions. You just cannot say words or make sounds. If it helps, you can pretend to say the words in your head, but that’s it.
In each case, make sure that you have your dog’s attention — they should be looking at you calmly, and making full eye contact. But, once that’s achieved, command away in silence. You will probably feel the need to move your hands and arms. Go ahead and do so. You will probably feel stupid and nothing will happen for the first few tries. Don’t give up.
If you remain calm, assertive, and focused, it won’t be long before your dog follows exactly the command you intended to give it. It shouldn’t take more than a day or two before your dog follows every command you give it without a word, and before this doesn’t feel so strange and awkward for you. But, by the end of the week, you should be able to give your dog a command from across the room with merely eye contact and facial expression.
What’s Going on Here?
Again, in nature, dogs do not communicate with words. When they communicate with growls or barks, they really aren’t speaking to each other. The tone of a bark or growl is produced by a dog’s energy and body language, so such sounds are really more a communication of “How I feel right now” as an indicator of pain, danger, excitement, etc.
When an alpha dog wants a beta dog to sit, it doesn’t make any sound. It will merely walk toward the beta while presenting as large a posture as possible, and bump into the beta if the message is not received. If the message is still not received, then a couple of well-placed paws will probably put the errant dog in line.
In any case, the path to becoming a Pack Leader for your dog or dogs begins with learning how to communicate like a dog, rather than in working against Mother Nature and forcing your dog to communicate like a human.
Leave the human words behind, and you will develop an even stronger bond with your beloved canine. In return, your dog will love you even more for understanding it, and using its own language.
Stupid Human Tricks for Becoming Better Pack Leaders
Anything that will put you in closer touch with your own body or improve your human communication skills will help you to become a better pack leader. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Yoga: You don’t have to be as flexible as a gymnast to do yoga, and there are varying levels and classes. Instructors are usually willing to accommodate your abilities, and doing all these weird stretches will help you get in touch with your body, and your body language.
2. Dance/Aerobics: Again, you don’t have to be Fred Astaire to dance. Look around, and find something fitting your experience. Tap and Ballet are probably only for people who’ve had some dance training, but things like ballroom, waltz, or country line are probably accessible to anyone. If you don’t want to do dance in quite so formal a way, then look for an aerobics class.
3. Improv: Although an aspect of theatre which frequently involves words, improv classes are excellent for teaching you the skill of listening, as well as teaching you to be constantly in the moment. Since dogs are also constantly living in the moment, improv is a good way to learn to be more dog-like.
4. Volunteer: As in volunteer at your local animal shelter, where you’ll get to interact with lots of dogs that are not your own. Practice using the silent command method on each of them. Practice calm, assertive energy while walking them. Also inquire with your local veterinarians to find out if they need volunteers; ask your own vet if they will trade volunteer time for medical care.
5. Read to Kids: No, really. Contact your local libraries and elementary schools to find out whether they have reading programs. And, although the above dog advice leans toward the non-verbal, reading to a room full of five-year-olds and keeping their attention is good practice, since many studies indicate that adult dogs operate at the same intellectual level as a human five-year-old. It’s not just the words keeping them pinned to their seats… what non-verbal cues are doing the job?
If all of the above fail, then there’s this: Take your dog on a long walk, in silence — but don’t forget to bring plenty of water for both of you. Your dog will let you know when you’ve walked long enough and it’s time to go home. Before that, your dog will let you know what it’s like to be a dog. Listen to the silence and learn.