We humans tend to talk first and think later. Scold and then find out what the problem really was. Yell because we’re scared/mad/anxious and then find out that maybe wasn’t the most appropriate way to react. We’re a noisy species – probably because of that hard-wiring for language! We think loud is the way to be heard. As the proverb proclaims — “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Not even going to speculate how true that might be if we’re trying to get another human to listen to us, but it’s definitely NOT the way to engage a dog’s attention!
Take one of the most common scenarios – your dog is barking. Dixie drives you crazy with her yapping every time she hears someone walk by. You want her to STOP – NOW! So, you yell at her and scold and if anything Dixie gets louder. In the dog world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, when one dog barks, the others in the vicinity start barking, too! A lot of experts, including Stanley Coren, think that when we yell, the dog might just think we’re joining in like all the other dogs, rather than giving a command.
Or another instance – Doug is having a good time out on your walk sniffing and looking around. (Squirrel!) He doesn’t respond when you ask him to SIT. So, you repeat the command over and over, finding your voice getting louder, and louder, and LOUDER! But Doug doesn’t pay more and more attention to you, does he?
How about watching Daisy dashing off into the sunset after slipping her leash? What do we do? Yell! And loud! Mostly we’re scared because she of what she could run into, but pretty soon we’re sounding like a drill sergeant and practically foaming at the mouth, Still, it doesn’t help Daisy’s sensitive ears tune in our “dulcet” tones at all! Funny that!
A dog’s hearing is very, very good. We don’t need to yell to make sure the sound waves activate the proper mechanism and transmit info to their brains. A dog can hear a cellophane wrapper being crinkled two rooms away! Kita can hear my voice inside a client’s house while she’s parked in the car in the driveway! Whisper the word “walk” in most households and a sleeping dog will beat you to the door!
Any trainer can tell you that the WAY we speak, speaks far louder to our dogs than do the words themselves! If you want to get your dog excited about something (perhaps you’re trying to teach her how to fetch) you speak in a high, quick, fairly loud voice and repeat words and phrases. Staccato! Forte! Whereas if you’re trying to get a dog to NOT do something (STAY for instance) we speak in a lower-pitched, softer, slower way, drawing out our words. Legato…Piano…
The change in SOUNDS helps get the message across to the dog. But beyond the acoustics, we need to speak quietly to become calm and still inside. Dogs pick up on our energy quicker than our words. By speaking slower and softer we slow our own respiration and probably our heart rate and blood pressure, too! Dogs can hear and certainly pay attention to those physiological signs of stress and anxiety. They can see the muscles in our neck and shoulders get tense. We move differently when we’re tense and dogs are extremely sensitive to HOW we move, just like how we sound! If their person is anxious, the dog is anxious, too! So, take a deep breath, consciously RELAX your shoulders, neck, jaw and arms — and speak very, very quietly (like you’re hunting wabbits!) It’s amazing! In short order you’ll feel much calmer and your dog will be listening.
Today has been a real test of this training technique; seven dogs — boarding and daycare doggies plus my own girl! One of the seven is sure to catch any little movement or suspicious sound outside! When one hears a truck rumble by, or the propped-open back door bang against its prop, or a car door slam across the street, it lets loose a barrage of barks — and the rest of the pack gives voice right along side. Instead of yelling (as I feel like doing); instead of saying a few bad words (as I’m tempted to do) I’ve taken that big calming breath, shaken my arms and neck, and breathed, “Quiet! Quiet, puppies!” It’s absolutely amazing how quickly they trail off and look at me as if puzzled to know what all the ruckus was about — and come over to be petted or lie down.
I don’t know if it’s the “energy” shifting from me to them. I don’t know if they see me, as the leader, being unconcerned and so they figure there’s nothing to worry about. I don’t know if they have to stop barking to hear me! And I don’t really care. It gets results! The power of QUIET is very powerful indeed! Also less stress on the vocal cords!