Pro Tips: How to Talk to Your Dog, Part III—Avoiding Common Problems


Major wants to understand, and you can help him.
Photo by Kate, Newton

Dogs certainly don’t speak our language, but they can understand a lot if we take the time to talk to them. But it’s important that we don’t assume that they can understand words the way humans do.

Here are a few basic rules to help you avoid confusing your best friend:

Your dog’s name is not a command. Every time you find yourself trying to communicate with your dog by saying nothing more than his name in a variety of inflections (“Oscar?” “Oscar!”), remember that the dog isn’t getting any specific message. If you want your dog to do something, offer the specific command that he or she has learned.

“No” is not a dog command. “No” often doesn’t mean anything because the dog isn’t sure what you’re saying “no” about. Avoid illogical negative dog commands.“No bark!” or “No pull!” are ludicrous things to say to a dog. First, dogs don’t speak English—much less understand the concept of “not” doing something—especially when that something is a word they haven’t been taught to respond to in the first place.

Avoid repeating dog commands. Every dog training manual says not to repeat a command over and over, because you’ll numb the dog to the word(s).

Don’t raise your voice to your dog. If he isn’t responding, don’t get frustrated. Raising your voice to get a reaction does nothing—except raise your own frustration level while rattling the dog.

Click here for Part I—Command Words
Click here for Part II—The Right Pitch

Click here for lots more information on the Orvis Guide to Dogs

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