We all know that probably the major difference between dogs and humans is the ability of humans to communicate instructions and abstract thoughts and ideas verbally. Because we are so good at doing this, we tend to rely less on the ability to read body language. Dogs, who do not have a sophisticated verbal form of communication tend to be past masters at reading body language and even the most subtle expressions or smallest movements carry whole paragraphs of information.
So, why is it that the more the dog acts confused at instruction do we become louder and more verbose? Our body language becomes more aggressive and our tone becomes more strident. What messages are we sending our dogs who are behaving at this point as though they had never had any training whatsoever. They are confused and many times this confusion is read as “stubborn” or “disobedient” which causes the human to escalate his or her unreasonable behaviour even more. A vicious cycle where nobody wins.
Once we have come to terms with the fact that our behaviour has a direct effect on our dogs’ behaviour, everything changes. Because we are being more careful with our tone of voice and the consistency of both our body language and our verbal cues, our dogs are more relaxed in the knowledge that their handler actually knows what he or she is doing! Make sure that your demeanour and attitude is conducive to good communication between you and your dog.
Very often as I approach the line at the start of a Field Trial I am extremely nervous. I know that my dog is picking up on all the subtle signals I am sending her, so I have taught myself to stand tall, walk slowly, breathe deeply and concentrate on being as positive as I can be so that my dog gets all the right messages and is in a place where she can also give her best.