"Lots of people talk to animals... not very many listen though... that's the problem."
- Benjamin Hoff (from The Tao of Pooh)
"All good things are wild and free" - Henry David Thoreau
"Listen to the wind, it talks. Listen to the silence, it speaks. Listen to your heart, it knows."
-Native American proverb
"Sometimes it is a little better to travel than to arrive"
-Robert M. Pirsig (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
"Those who know do not speak."
-Lao Tzu (from the Tao Te Ching)
"In wildness is the preservation of the world." - Henry David Thoreau
"Not all those who wander are lost." -Thoreau
"It does not require many words to speak the truth." -Chief Joseph
"Keep on swimming... Keep on swimming." -Finding Nemo
"There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way." Thich Nhat Hanh
Rose, Betty, Bodie and Delilah exploring the trails, January 2020.
Snow is the best! Betty and Rose, December 2019
Snow is happiness, Bodie and Cooper, Dec. 2019
Taking in the views, Millie, Betty and Rose, Dec. 2019
Rosie LOVES chasing Bodie, Jan 2020
Just chillin' on a hill, Betty and Millie, Jan. 2020
Betty, Rose and Willow (sometimes with their buddies Bodie, Cooper and Socrates), February 2018-August 2019, very special friends. (Have fun in Colorado Willow- we will miss you!!)
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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
Above pic: Rose, Betty, and Willow March 2019, Off Leash Adventure Group Founders
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