We’ve all been there. Fluffy is really excited, and you’re frantically pleading, “Fluffy, sit!” While Fluffy may (or may not!) hear you, she certainly isn’t responding to that command learned years ago. Why is that? We know she’s excited, but does that mean she forgot how to sit?
Dogs communicate in a variety of ways, but their preferred method is visual. They use their posture and body language to communicate with other dogs AND with people. If visual communication is the dog’s preference, why do we humans insist on shouting verbal commands at them then? It’s in our nature! We use our voices to communicate so we assume they should too. If you want to really connect with your dog, though, visual communication will be far more successful.
I teach every new command using just my hands (and maybe a delicious treat) to guide them or “lure” them into a behavior. Without saying a word, I can easily get a dog to sit politely simply by providing a visual lure to follow. Once the dog is following the lure consistently, a verbal command can be added if desired, but it isn’t even necessary. In fact, my dogs will often respond to hand signals much more quickly and consistently than verbal commands.
Let’s use the sit command as an example.
- Hold a delicious treat between your thumb and first finger.
- Hold the treat in front of the dog’s nose for a few seconds without letting her eat it.
- When she’s focused on the treat, slowly pull your hand straight above her nose and toward your chest.
- If she jumps for the treat, hold your hand still and wait. After a few seconds, many dogs will drop into the sit.
- When her bottom falls to the floor (and her front feet remain on the floor), praise and reward her with the treat.
- Be careful not to treat her when she’s not in the sit position. For example, if she pops up or paws at you when you reach to give her the treat, start again. She must be in the sit position to receive the reward.
Another great benefit to visual commands is the dog’s desire to match your physical energy. If the human is raising their voice and panicking to communicate with the dog, the dog will also raise their energy level, excitement, and anxiety. If, however, the human is calmly giving quiet visual commands, the dog will respond with quiet compliance.
Next time you’re raising your voice and pleading with your dog to get them to follow a verbal command, try working with your hands instead.
by Jodi Hoyt, Hoyt Consulting