What’s the Right Way to Talk to Your Dog?

Learn how your voice and body language can help you train your dog more effectively.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #88

As you might have noticed, humans have different shapes from dogs and rarely walk on all fours. True, some of us can wiggle our butts impressively (hi, Shakira!), but none of us have tails. We’re not so much with the ear motility, either. Long story short, we’re poorly equipped to speak Dog. Nevertheless, you can use your voice and body language to enhance your training and your relationship with your dog. Or to undermine them.;

What’s the Right Way to Talk to Your Dog?

How do you speak to your dog? Many people use a special “command” tone--louder than their normal speaking voice, peremptory, no-nonsense. To go along with the command tone, they stiffen up physically and all facial expression disappears. Dear me. To the extent the “command tone” does have an effect, it might be the opposite of what you’re looking for.

How Your Voice Sounds to Your Dog

A case in point is coming when called. You stand straight up like a drill sergeant, you bellow “Dogalini, COME,” and often what you get is Dogalini approaching slowly, in a wide curve, with many a pause to sniff the ground or even sit and scratch. Classic behavior that old-school trainers identify as the dog blowing you off. The old-school trainers are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Here’s what’s really going on. Your boomed command sounds harsh and angry; Dogalini responds with a slow, curving approach to signal her deference to you. She’s being polite. The sniff-and-scratch routines are so-called displacement behaviors, meaning normal behaviors done out of context. Scientists who study animal behavior believe that displacement behaviors reflect emotional conflict. Dogalini wants to approach, she really really does, but she’s just. that. little. bit. scared.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).