How Should I Speak to My Dog?
While training would be much easier if dogs spoke your language, alas, they don't. You have to teach a dog what certain words mean, but you can't do that if you don't know how to properly speak to the dog. First, understand that speaking to a dog isn't a matter of what you say, but how you say it; dogs learn more about what you think and feel by the tone of your voice than the content of your message. By speaking to your dog appropriately, you make sure that your message gets across.
Three Tones to Take
Learn the three types of voice to use with your dog. When speaking to your dog, your tone can do one of three things: encourage, command or scold. An encouraging tone, for example, is typically high pitched, enthusiastic and even a little silly. A commanding tone is firm, low and serious. A scolding tone is the lowest and most serious tone, and sounds disapproving or even unhappy.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice these three types of voice so that you don't overdo it. For example, if you are too enthusiastic and manic with your encouraging voice, you can whip up your dog into an excited frenzy. On the opposite end of that spectrum, if your scolding voice is too loud or too angry, you could frighten your dog. You should ask a friend or, better yet, a professional dog trainer to listen to your tones to ensure that they are appropriate. It often takes another set of ears to arrive at an objective opinion. What you consider to be a commanding tone can be read as "angry" by others listening to you.
It's also very important that you use the right voice at the right time -- which is not the same for every dog. For example, if your dog is lagging behind on a walk and doesn't respond to a commanding "come," he may respond better to an encouraging, happy "come." Experiment and see how your dog reacts to different tones.
Consistency is Key
Incorporate consistent language into your speech. As important as tone is, consistency is even more crucial. Always use the same words and phrases when you're trying to communicate with your dog, or else he'll just get confused. For example, don't say "go for a walk" and "go outside" interchangeably. Your dog can't make a logical connection between the two, and won't understand that they mean the same thing. Use simple words like "down," "sit" and "no" when speaking to your dog, and use them every time.
By Tom Ryan
About the Author
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.