Have you ever had a friend you like, who tends toward the talkative? Part of your brain eventually goes on automatic pilot, and while it’s off creating a list for your next supermarket run, it snags on a pertinent word. What’s that you just said about the discounted dog treats? you ask, as your brain snaps back into engagement mode. I often think dogs filter our speech in the same way. So many of us chat to our dogs constantly, and even when giving verbal cues, say things like, “Come on, Buddy, come here now, come on!” And we wonder why dogs just don’t get us sometimes.
I always try to include some training in my early morning walks with my dogs. One of the things Sierra and I practice is that on my verbal cue, she’s to stop what she’s doing—which includes the wolf impression she loves to do as she stalks approaching dogs—and sit in front of me, eyes on me. She’s doing well, as is Bodhi, whose job is, on my cue, to walk by my side and pass other dogs without lunging or barking. As someone who’s naturally chatty, I often make non-training-related, friendly comments to Bodhi and Sierra that I’m certain make no sense to them whatsoever (I’m pretty sure they roll their eyes at each other when I’m not looking). But at the park, I’m doing my best to stop speaking to them, unless I’m giving a specific verbal cue . I’ve curbed the Okay, you can go pee on that phrase that I use with Bodhi quite often, and the Not everyone wants to say hello to you that follows Sierra’s encounters with certain passersby. As a result, my dogs have been paying more attention to the words that do come out of my mouth.
The other morning, as a result of the Jeep being out of commission, my husband and I ended up walking the dogs together. Each time I said something to him, the dogs immediately turned and focused on me. It was a nice surprise, and showed me just how far the “less is more” linguistic strategy has taken us. I don’t recommend that anyone try to curb their love or enthusiasm for their dogs, but reducing your chatter and keeping it to verbal cues your dogs already know, at least out in public, is an experiment worth trying.