ABC-Animal  -   Behaviour Chonicle

When Your Dog Talks, Do You Understand ?

People and dogs use very different methods of communication. People’s main form of communication is talking, whereas dogs use their entire bodies – eyes, ears, nose, tail and posture. We often send dogs a verbal message combined with ambiguous or contradictory body language. This starts a big misunderstanding.

Scenario in Human Language
Your dog rolls in a puddle outside. You yell, “Blacky, come!”  An embarrassed-looking Blacky goes to you. Full of anger, you say, “You know that was a stupid thing to do. Why did you roll in the mud? You’re all dirty and I’m in a hurry!” At the sound of your voice, Blacky lays on the ground, rolls on his back, and adds yet another layer of mud to your beige pants. Overwhelmed with frustration, you order Blacky into his cage, pulling him by the collar.

Here’s the same scenario in Blacky’s language
“Yippee! I’m going to cool off in the water. Oh! My master seems to be in a bad mood. His eyes are shooting daggers of fire at me; he’s standing very straight and seems full of confidence. I go over to him, but I’m afraid of his reaction. I want to avoid conflicts by making myself very small. I’m going to turn over on my back to show him I’m not a danger and that I don’t want to cause any problems. Then he’ll stop being aggressive
. I don’t understand. He’s always angry. How can I stop provoking him? How should I act the next time?”

In this scenario, each is convinced that the other clearly understands the message (verbal for the person and corporal for the dog). But neither of them understands at all. Here, Blacky is behaving adequately. However, the master punishes him for his behavior. So the next time, how will Blacky behave? After the punishment, it is possible that he will react differently, or even inadequately.



1) “Sit” in a calm voice

Before any interaction, clearly say “sit” to your dog in a calm voice. It is very important not to yell.

Once he is used to it, the dog will sit down calmly and then look at you attentively. When he is seated, his behavior will definitely be adequate (that is why you must not punish a dog when it is in this position). The seated position therefore becomes a predictable communication tool for the dog. When he is seated, nothing bad can happen to him. When he is not sure what he should do, he must sit and wait for your validation.

2) Ignore undesirable behavior

Until your dog is sitting calmly, ignore him totally. Ignoring the animal means not talking to it, looking at it or touching it. By using this easy and predictable tool for interactions that have a great value for the dog (variable with different dogs), such as eating, being stroked, going out, being groomed or starting a game with a member of the family, the dog will quickly learn that to have what he wants, he just has to stop jumping, barking or scratching with his paw. He must simply sit.

3) Reward good behavior

To quickly put this tool in place, positive reinforcement is necessary. When he sits, give him a mini food reward (the size of the pinky nail). Then, gradually replace the reward with the interaction you want, such as a caress or a game.

4) Be patient, persevere, and have fun

Be more patient than him, because before improving, you dog will become even more demanding than usual. To get your attention, he will use all of his old tricks. Ignore him at the right moment and reward him for good behaviors. After two or three weeks, you will obtain the results you’re looking for.

5) Avoid punishments

Be consistent and eliminate all other forms of punishment (avoid yelling, making gestures, hitting…). Punishment does not give your pet any indications of what he should do. The only effect it has is to diminish the bond between you and your pet and to increase his level of anxiety.


6) Speak the Same Language

To avoid ambiguities and anxiety, everyone must communicate in the same way.


7) Exercise together every day

Are you and your kids full of energy? So is your dog! There are many educational and stimulating games for animals. Play together every day, take walks, make your pet run, jump. Once his surplus energy is spent, your pet will be more attentive.

In conclusion, be consistent in your communications with your dog and enjoy rewarding him for good behavior. With this method of communication, you will experience your relationship growing.

Martin Godbout, D.V.M.
Veterinary Behaviourist
Daubigny Veterinary Group
Québec City, Québec, Canada