Just like people dogs have varied and unique interests, talents, needs, and drives, with a strong capacity to communicate with us, and with each other. The traditional focus on "commanding" dogs creates barriers to communication, at the same time failing to support each dog's individuality and unique spirit. By seeking instead to foster deeper and richer communication with our dogs, through a combination of positive reinforcement strategies and relationship building, we are better able to meet their needs, support their interests, develop their talents, at the same time promoting positive behavior.
Verbal and non-verbal human cues are a key component of communication with dogs. Through repetition, consistency, and experiences dogs learn to respond to our cues. Treats, praise, and toys are effective positive reinforcement rewards to use when teaching cues, especially in the initial learning stages. Once dogs have learned a cue however, communicating praise, appreciation, and love, both verbally and non-verbally most often can replace the need for a food or toy reward.
For example, we may ask a group of dogs to wait before jumping out of the car each day. With repetition and consistency dogs will learn the cue. With experience their innate intelligence, empathy, and intuition allow them to understand that “wait” fosters safety and order. Dogs learn to stay with you during outings, even in more open, stimulating environments such as dog parks, fields, or in the woods It is not merely verbal cues and experience that encourage them to stay with you, but more importantly the positive bond and connection you share. All of these positive interactions are possible with the fostering of solid communication.
Listening to our dogs
We can only develop solid communication with dogs when listening becomes mutual and reciprocal. If we expect our dogs to “listen” to us we must consistently and wholeheartedly "listen" to them.
We express ourselves to dogs though words (such as sit, stay, wait, hello, let’s go, with me, good job…), actions (eye-contact, physical cues, our movement, play, smiles, affection…), and our energy.
Dogs express themselves to us and to each other through their actions, body language and energy. They let us know when they need to exercise or rest, play or sit in the shade, drink water or share some love. They let us know when they like another person or dog, and when they don’t. When we “listen” to our dogs by deeply observing what they may be expressing through their actions, body language, and energy, our bonds and communication become richer and stronger.
For example, you have a dog who always loves playing with friends in the dog park. One day they urgently paw at the gate while making eye contact with you. It is clear that their behavior is a form of communication. For some reason in that moment they urgently want to leave the park. Listening in that moment involves observing, analyzing and responding with love. You decide to trust their instincts and listen to their request to leave the park. You return to the dog park the next day and end up having an awesome afternoon of play.
Dogs are more likely to listen to us when we steadfastly listen to them. This is because they know when we understand and meet their needs, they know when we celebrate their uniqueness, they know when communication is mutual and reciprocal. In addition, when we listen to dogs we will undoubtedly tap into their intelligences and talents. Dogs, for example, are able to sense and pick up on things that we don't. Our charge is to listen to them, to learn from them, and to try our best to understand.
Building a Foundation of Love
At the center of all solid communication is love. True love can only be fostered when we fully and wholeheartedly embrace another for who they are. The more traditional "command and obey" approach often aims to create a "perfect" dog. Just as we wouldn’t expect a person to be "perfect", we also shouldn’t expect a dog to be "perfect". There is no room for perfectionism or command in a loving relationship. Although we may use rewards and strategies to promote positive behaviors, in the end the love and bonds that grew through solid communication will be most important, meaningful, and effective.
Many dog experts have rejected the traditional "command and obey" approach to working with dogs, choosing to focus instead on using verbal and non-verbal cues, interactive communication and teaching dogs to make good choices. Some of my personal favorites are Tamar Geller, https://theloveddog.com/, "a life coach for dogs and their people," and Victoria Stillwell, https://positively.com/.
Also, check out Victoria Stillwell's fantastic online article "Why I don't use commands in dog training."
(Photo 1: Rose, Betty, and Janet, Photo 2: Socrates, Bodie, Betty, Rose, and Robyn (Cooper and Willow behind), Photo 3: Jaime, Jackson, and Janet, Photo 4: Bodie and Cooper, Photo 5: Willow and Betty, Photo 6: Rose and Daisy, Photo 7: Janet, Bodie, Socrates, Betty and Rose running)
Blog by Robyn/Photos by Janet and Robyn
"Wait time" is a mutual, patient, loving, communicative experience. “Wait” can be one of the most vital components of a dog’s (and human's) vocabulary. Dogs who unflinchingly respond to “wait” are empathetically, reciprocally and sometimes urgently communicating with their human companion. “Wait time” ensures that every outing with our dogs will be safer and smoother. In addition, periodic “wait” moments provide dogs and their humans the time and space to pay closer attention to one another, enhancing our bonds and understanding.
"Wait" is one of the easiest cues to teach. Simply begin by asking your dog to “wait” often, before exiting or entering any location (car, house, park), before throwing a ball, beginning a tug of war match, offering a toy, providing a meal, or continuing to walk. Frequent use of the "wait" cue, applied in conjunction with “let’s go” during walks, off leash excursions, and dog park outings, attunes your dog to you even in chaotic surroundings. Dogs quickly begin to know both through these experiences, and intuitively, that our mutual "waiting" creates calm, safe, positive energy.
Here are a few reasons for the unique power of “wait.”:
Wait is necessary
At street corners and traffic lights, while driving, during off leash adventures, when exiting or entering any location, wait is a vital component of safety and well-being.
Wait is effective
Whether your goal is impulse control, loose leash walking, recall or teaching/practicing tricks, frequent use of the wait cue effectively calms your dog, elicits their attention, and maintains their focus on you when necessary.
Wait is a reciprocal experience:
“Wait” is unique to other cues as it is a reciprocal experience. It is equally important for humans to “wait” for dogs as it is for dogs to wait for us. When we provide ongoing "wait" time during outings, to sniff or choose a route during walks or finish a great wrestling match or game of chase at the park, dogs pick up on and appreciate our patience.
When we quietly observe dogs' behavior (rather than immediately labeling it a problem and redirecting them) we can determine what they may be communicating or need. Dogs are more likely to listen to and wait for us when they know we will steadfastly wait for and listen to them, deepening our bonds and understanding
Wait is patient, loving and kind
Dogs are caring, intelligent, empathetic creatures. They can quickly begin to realize that you ask them to wait for their well-being and yours. Dogs may for example see the chaos they create when rushing out of a car or across a street. By making direct eye contact with your dog while asking them to “wait” your communication and mutual understanding become even deeper. Dogs begin to “wait” not merely because they understand the cue, but because they are both attuned to and drawn to the reciprocal love and kindness in the mutual “wait” experience.
Photo 1: Millie, Photo 2: Bodie, Rose and Betty, Photo 3: Betty, Photo 4: Harvey, Photo 5: Roscoe, Photo 6: Willow, Rose, and Betty
The Benefits of Tug
Some of the richest moments I have shared with dogs have been moments of tug.
For this reason I was immediately drawn to Bobbie Bhambree’s fantastic online article entitled “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about tug of war,” which I highly recommend (https://positively.com/contributors/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-tugging/)
Bobbie Bhambree, a long time dog/agility trainer and behavior consultant, reveals the benefits of tug as she experienced with her own dog Tricky, and how she was able to reignite Tricky’s tug drive. Her article can be found on Victoria Stillwell’s website http://www.positively.com.
When Tricky was a puppy her tug drive was strong. Tricky lost her tug drive as an older dog, and at the age of five Bhambree was able to bring it back. The return of Tricky’s tug drive it seems, contributed positively not only to Bhambree’s relationship with Tricky but to Tricky’s training, in this case specifically agility training.
According to Bhambree, tug drive unleashes numerous positive qualities in dogs. During a good game of tug, Bhambree asserts, “distractions fall into the background,” dogs are so fully engaged they become “in the zone,” “fully present,” with their “mind and body working in sync…” With full presence and engagement, dogs are more likely to pay attention to and feel connected with their human companion.
Igniting Tug Drive
In order to reignite Tricky’s tug drive, Bhambree used a variety of strategies to make “the toy come alive,” igniting Tricky’s instinct to treat the toy as if it were prey, at the same time building “passion” in Tricky for the toy. As a human participant, Bhambree stresses the importance of staying “fully engaged while playing with your dog,” “getting low to the ground,” and keeping “your eye on your dog” As Bhambree explains, “your dog knows when you are there with him in the moment,” increasing their engagement and drive for the tug toy.
In order to keep Tricky interested, Bhambree varied their tug games. Like many dogs Tricky became especially motivated for toys she could “chase and tug.” For this reason, when playing tug Bhambree would tease Tricky with the toy. She would “drag” it, “smack it against the ground,” “make it dance,” motivate Tricky to chase it and jump for it before allowing her to grab it, increasing Tricky’s engagement, Tricky’s motivation to play and in the process Bhambree’s bond with Tricky.
The numerous benefits of tug (exercise, redirection tool, positive reward, bonding experience) make it a deeply worthwhile and meaningful activity. Here are a few suggestions for effective, safe, and enjoyable tugging:
1. Vary Tug Games
Playing tug of war in a variety of ways, as Bobbie Bhambree illustrates clearly in her article, will make the game more interesting for your dog and you. Using longer chase toys, and making your dog run after and jump for the toy before and between moments of tug for example, will increase their motivation and engagement.
2. Immerse yourself in the game
Your ongoing eye contact, undivided attention and full presence throughout tug games will intensify your dog’s attention on you, maintain your dog’s interest, increase their drive, and in the process enhance their bond with you.
3. Keep Good Boundaries
Have fun but stop play before it becomes too rough. As Victoria Stillwell advises in her article entitled “Dog Games,” (https://positively.com/dog-wellness/dog-enrichment/dog-games/),
during tug of war it is important to teach your dog to “take it” and “drop it” so that you can retrieve the tug toy when necessary, and of course never chase your dog for a toy. Also, be ready to stop the game if tug moments develop into “rowdy play, over arousal, or mouthing.”
4. . Use Tug of War to Redirect or Grasp your Dog’s Attention
Moments of tug can be used in the same way treats are used, as a positive reinforcement reward. Initiating tug can effectively gain your dog’s attention, prompt them to follow your lead when necessary, and redirect your dog to more positive desirable behavior.
5. Initiate Play Between Dogs with Tug
Occasionally dogs need some coaxing to begin play with one another. Make them chase a tug toy then throw it or start tugging with one dog and then place your end in another dog’s mouth. Do this a couple of times if necessary until the two (or more) dogs begin play with one another.
6. Have Fun!
Without a doubt, an in synch, passionate, energized game of tug is a total blast. Never forget to have some fun!
Photo 1: Jack Photo 2: Bodie Photo 3: Betty Photo 4: Betty Photo 5: Rose
Photo 6: Jackson and Monte
Dog walking is one of the absolute best past times. Engaging the mind, body, and soul, endlessly enriching and fun, every moment walking a dog is one to appreciate. Here are a few reasons why:
We pull out the leash and the excitement begins. With play bows, wiggles, howls, smiles, and kisses, each dog expresses their anticipation uniquely and genuinely. Dogs are an incessant motivator to get us moving! A 30-60 minute walk, run or hike is always more fun and engaging when joined by a pup, exercise naturally built into time spent together.
The moments we spend walking with our dogs are some of the most special. Whether we explore a neighborhood, adventure a park, or hike a trail, walking together allows us to share beautiful, invigorating, feel-good experiences. Often beginning and ending with kisses, affection, appreciative eyes and happy faces dogs clearly express their gratitude for walks, developing lasting bonds with us in the process.
An Experience of Everything
We all know those moments, ears up, noses pulsating, dogs sense things during walks that we would never notice without them. That squirrel in the branches, rabbit in the bushes, blooming flowers in a nearby garden, or an unexpected blue jay nest at the top of a tree, dogs draw our attention to the most stunning wonders of nature.
Open, uninhibited, playful, loving, and kind- if people were more like dogs the world would clearly be a better place. Every walk with a dog is an adventure, meeting countless new people and other pups along the way.
(Photo 1: OJ, Photo 2: Millie, Photo 3: Panda, Photo 4: Betty, Photo 5: Mia and Roscoe)
Summer days, often hot and uncomfortable for us, are even more so for our furry loved ones. With just a little extra effort, even the most sweltering days can be full of exercise, great activities, and fun.
Here are a few tips:
1. ENJOY YOUR WALKS WET
Gently spray your dog with a hose before and after walks using the mist option if possible. Focus on places where they get especially hot, including their paws, belly and under their legs. You can also find a place to swim. Dogs are typically cooler and happier when walking wet!
Pet shops have great doggie water bottles. People water bottles work too. On very hot days give your dog a few sips every 10-15 minutes from a dish or water bottle during outdoor activity to keep
Photo 1: Bodie (left) and Roscoe (right) share some water during a play group.
Photo 2: Bodie (front), Cooper (behind) and Betty (back left) drink water and rest in the shade.
3. BABY POOLS ARE FOR DOGS TOO!
Dogs can play, wade, run, and frolic in a baby pool right in your back yard. Extra "cool" outdoor fun!
Many dogs love to dig and then lie in a cool patch of dirt on hot days. This activity gives dogs exercise, a sense of accomplishment, and a cool shady place to rest.
Photo 1: OJ works hard digging to find the wet earth.
Photo 2: Then he chills in his cool spot with his good friend Millie!
5. Frozen Treats
Frozen peanut butter filled kongs, ice cubes, and other cold treats are a delicious, fun way to cool down after a hot summer outing!
6. Indoor Play Time
On the hottest days enjoy a short walk followed by some playtime in the air conditioning or near a fan in your home. Hide and go seek, fetch, tug of war and other games can be played inside, providing a more safe and comfortable means to get exercise, bond, and have fun!
Tug of war is a doggie favorite that can easily be played indoors. In the above photos Bodie (first photo) and Mia (second photo) show us what they got!
Like humans, canines require more than their basic necessities to live well. Affection, companionship, various forms of fulfillment and fun are just as necessary to dogs as they are to people. Just like people, dogs feel better, and as a result, behave better when all of their needs are met including those that stimulate their bodies, minds, and hearts.
Renowned celebrity trainer, author, and founder of "the loved dog" training method," Tamar Geller, in a video entitled "Your Dog's Seven Basic Needs," discusses the ways that meeting a dog's needs can improve not only their behavior, but also the quality of their life. This and other informative and insightful videos on the PETA website (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), introduces Geller's "Loved Dog" approach to training and can be found at http://www.peta.org/features/dog-training-tips-tamar-geller/.
According to Tamar Geller, dogs have a “mental capacity similar to that of an 18-month-old toddler.” Like children, dogs need to be engaged as much as possible and to be fulfilled physically, mentally, and emotionally. In her video, Tamar Geller details the seven basic needs of dogs, which include a "sense of security," (involving "consistency") "active companionship," "understanding the hierarchy," (involving clear "guidance"), "engagement and play", "excitement and surprises", "physical stimulation", "mental stimulation" and last but not least- "love and connection". A key component of training, or in Tamar Geller’s terms “coaching” dogs, involves tapping into and meeting their seven basic needs.
Janet and Cooper sharing some love after games of fetch and tug of war with a frisby!
One reason why a dog may exhibit an unwanted behavior is to express a need. Tamar Geller stresses the importance of communicating with dogs in order to determine what they are telling us when they act out. More exercise, time to socialize, or a game of tug of war with you may be the best means to redirect, calm, and reassure your dog at the same time eliminating an unwanted behavior. Tamar Geller’s approach combines these ideas with uses of positive reinforcement in order, not only teach dogs to be “well mannered,” but also to enhance the bonds and relationships that we share with them.
For more information about Tamar Geller, her book and philosophy “The Loved Dog,” visit http://theloveddog.com/. To view her training tip videos visit http://www.peta.org/features/dog-training-tips-tamar-geller/.
The excitement of a dog at the start of a walk is contagious. Pet lovers are greeted by their pups with howls, wiggles, play bows, doggy style dances, kisses and more. In the initial moment, that first step into the great outdoors (or the Cambridge Common for some!), feelings that include joy, stimulation, freedom, curiosity emanate from our canine comrades. Ready to have some fun many dogs begin to run even when their human companion is not! Hence dogs pull. Makes sense. Dogs are clearly not meant to be on leashes. If we could let our dogs run free the moment we leave home we would, yet reality and common sense remind us quickly that this is not possible, especially in chaotic cities and bustling towns. Although there are many fantastic dog parks and fields where we take our dogs to run and play off leash, a walk is often required to get us there. So the challenge, at times then is to make a leash driven walk one that is safe and fun for everyone, humans and canines alike.
Internationally renowned trainer Victoria Stilwell illustrates a few basic, yet clearly effective, strategies that prevent pulling in her recent article and video entitled “Loose Leash Walking” (which can be found on her website (https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/loose-leash-walking). Stilwell demonstrates that, by simply not allowing dogs to pull, insisting consistently on walking only when the leash is loose, many to most dogs can learn to coordinate their walking speed to match that of their human companion.
Both Stilwell's "stop and be still" and "reverse direction" techniques are powerful methods to teach your dog to be mindful of your needs just as you are steadfastly mindful theirs. With the “stop and be still” technique, pet owners and caregivers simply refuse to walk when their dog is pulling. Then the “reverse direction” technique, as is also illustrated by Stilwell in her video, seems to serve as a reminder to dogs that they must be just as in tune with the speed, direction, and body movements of their owners, as we are with theirs.
During a training session Stillwell will change direction repeatedly in a short span of time, reinforcing to her canine trainees that they will need to follow her body, without pulling the leash, in order to get where they want to go. Rewards for following her lead, which may include praise, toys, or treats vary, depending on each dog’s unique interests. You can view this fantastic video and article, along with other useful pieces on Victoria Stilwell’s website (https://positively.com).