Pro Tips: How to Talk to Your Dog, Part I—Command Words

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

There are lots of ways that we communicate with our dogs—with our eyes, through body language, and even through our moods—but speaking to them is how we train, correct, and praise them. The words that you choose and the ways that you say them can make a big difference in your dog’s ability to understand and obey. In the first part of our “How to Talk to Your Dog” series, we’ll look at the specific vocabulary that you choose.

Use Consistent Dog Commands: Once your dog has learned a command, do not vary it. Use it the same way—same tone of voice, same phrase—every time you give the command. Don’t confuse the dog by saying “Come,” “Come over here,” “Come on boy,” “Come on, Come on,” etc. Pay attention to what you’re saying and discipline yourself to use the same phrase every time—and only one at a time. For example, “Come on… sit down… stay… okay?” has four requests in it, but not one command a dog can understand clearly and follow.

Develop a personal dog training vocabulary: Make a dog vocabulary that works for you, one you use consistently to express exactly what you need or mean to say. “Oops” is a wonderful dog training word because it expresses a gentle reprimand. By its very nature “oops” can’t sound angry—it implies “Nope, try again,” rather than the less forgiving “NO!” You can say “oops” when your dog has executed the wrong command (like lying down instead of sitting) or ignored you. “Oops” sounds cautionary but forgiving, especially because when you say it you are probably going to give the dog another chance to do your bidding. “Oops” makes you a more forgiving “boss,” which creates a better learning environment for your dog.

Be aware of how you use a word, especially the word “down.” If “down” means “lie down,” then don’t use it interchangeably to tell a dog not to jump up on people. (“Off” might work, but only if you don’t use it to signal a dog to get off a piece of furniture or get out of a car, which is different.)

Give your dog a command using a consistent tone of voice: How you say a word—the tone, the inflection at the end of the word—must be the same each time for your dog to respond reliably. Change your tone and you alter the meaning of the command. You’ll gain control of your voice simply by focusing on it.

Next: Part II—Using the Pitch of Your Voice

2 thoughts on “Pro Tips: How to Talk to Your Dog, Part I—Command Words”

  1. Thanks for this short and simple article. It is great to see a lot of sources to read here that helps newbie (or those who have been misguided) to properly train their dogs, too. Consistency is the key!

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