How do you talk to your dog? Do you pay attention to how you’re talking to dogs, as well as what you’re saying?
Do you use baby talk? A high-pitched voice?
Normal conversational tones?
Or “command” mode?
Dogs pay attention to everything we do and say. They pick up on cues we don’t even know we’re broadcasting. Have you seen your dog take on “nurse mode” when you’re not feeling well? Or “act guilty” when you’re angry – even if they haven’t done anything wrong?
Tone matters. While we’ve seen data that says dogs can learn hundreds, if not thousands, of words, dogs’ ability to pick up on tone and inflection seems to be instinct, not learned.
Dogs know our moods
Your dog knows when you’re happy. He or she knows when you’re upset, or frustrated, or angry, or having a bad day. How he/she reacts depends on the individual dog’s personality. Some dogs may yell right back at you. Others may shut down. Still others may become confused and act out.
We’ve recently had experience with how tone matters. Fran is preparing for upcoming competitions in Obedience, Rally, and Agility with her Boston Terriers, Booker and Simon.
Getting ready to compete
Booker is six years old and a somewhat experience competitor. He has titles in all of these performance venues. And, when he’s paying attention, is marvelous.
We have the habit of playing training games with our dogs every morning before work. It’s something we love, so it lets every day start out on a positive note. Each dog gets a few minutes by himself with his “mom.” We all love this time. And we’ve learned a lot about how talking to dogs has an impact on them.
To assess how we’re doing, we’ve starting recording video of our little sessions. Listening one day, Fran noticed that her voice was different when talking to each of her dogs. And it matters!
Booker was first. Fran and Booker start competing at the Open level in obedience this week. Her tone was pretty serious with him, and when he didn’t get things right, she found herself getting a little frustrated.
Tango is retired now and his little sessions are all for fun. Fran expects little from him now, so whatever he does is fun. They just have fun together.
Her puppy Simon is just learning, although he is entered in Rally competitions coming up. Fran is patient with him and rewards every time he gets things right. When he doesn’t quite “get it,” she just tries again.
Fran learned a lot when listening to the video. Of her dogs, Booker is the most sensitive to her mood and tone. When she heard herself on the playback, she knew she had to change to prevent Booker from shutting down.
The next day Fran made a conscious effort to keep all of her dogs’ sessions playful, fun, and upbeat. And Booker responded beautifully.
So we’re still learning. How we talk to our dogs matters even more than what we’re saying.