A yellow lab and his owner play outside

By Cesar Millan

Communication is key. When I arrive at a new client’s house I usually get two stories. One is the client’s, as he tells me what’s “wrong” with his dog. The other is the dog’s. Before the human even starts talking, the dog lets me know what her problems are with him.

The human tells me he can’t understand why when he yells “sit” louder and louder, the dog ignores him. The dog is baffled by the human becoming unbalanced and yelling louder and louder.

Communication is Essential

So many of the issues people have with dogs come right down to a failure to communicate. Dogs don’t speak English or Spanish or any other human language — but that doesn’t mean we can’t understand what they’re trying to tell us. We just have to try to put ourselves in the dog’s position and try to understand how she sees the situation.


One of the things I’m most often asked about is aggression. The human usually tells me that the dog, with no warning, became aggressive. But that’s rarely true. Dogs give many signals when they’re frightened or apprehensive — which is usually why they act aggressively.

If you watch a pack of feral dogs, they rarely behave aggressively toward each other. Dogs have a very clear set of signals they use to indicate that they want to play, not fight — because as pack animals it’s in their DNA to live socially.

So if dogs don’t use words, how do they communicate?

How Dog’s Communicate

Like all other animals they “talk” through energy. Think about how dogs behave around each other. They circle each other, then approach gradually and sniff each other. There’s a calm, relaxed energy to the encounter as each dog indicates he’s comfortable before they get closer to each other.

Dogs wouldn’t approach each other barking and excited and expect the encounter to end well. They’re drawn to calm energy, which is why I say the most important thing for you as a Pack Leader is to be calm and assertive.

But when a human is yelling a command, the dog doesn’t hear the words, she just sees unbalanced energy — and dogs won’t respond to that. If you stay calm and quiet you’ll be able to communicate with your dog through your energy.

Remember, dogs have evolved for centuries alongside humans. More than any animal they’ve learned to study us and read the subtlest changes in body language, always in an effort to please us.

I recently did an experiment to make the point about energy in a way that people can actually see what I mean. Using a monitor I observed the heart rate of a person who was struggling to control a dog. As the heart rate increased, the dog became more and more agitated. I then took over. I stayed calm, my pulse remained normal and the dog soon relaxed.

The secret to successful communication with dogs is to remember that they “talk” through energy not words. That means it’s important that you’re attentive and patient. Watch for the signs — your dog will tell you if she’s nervous or excited.

The problem for most people is that they miss those early signs because they aren’t paying attention, and the first time they pay attention is when the dog starts barking or becomes aggressive.

Being a Pack Leader is about providing direction and protection. If you don’t display calm, assertive energy, your dog will sense a vacuum and will try to take over the role of Pack Leader. And that’s the root of many problems between human and dog.

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