All Things Dog

Why Non-verbal Communication Works

As much as the makers of “Lassie” wanted you to believe it, dogs don't understand English. And when we train our dogs, we can forget that we're teaching in a foreign language! That's why using consistent sounds and signals can be even more effective than using words to communicate with your dog. Read on to find out why more and more individuals are starting to use non-verbal techniques to train their beloved best friends.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is an easy and highly effective method of dog training. Properly called "operant conditioning," clicker training uses a consistent sound to tell your dog that he has done something right. The clicker is a unique-sounding, non-verbal marker. You can purchase a real clicker, but anything that makes a consistent noise will do, such a ballpoint pen or the metal cap of a baby food jar.

First and foremost, you must begin to associate “click” with “treat.” Click and reward your dog with praise and a small treat a few times until he starts looking for the treat when he hears the click. When he makes this association, he is ready to start clicker training. For example, if you were to teach your dog to "sit" with this method, here’s what would happen:

  • Give the verbal command for hand signal for “sit” while gently bringing a treat to just above the dog's nose and then toward his forehead.
  • Your dog will follow the treat with his nose and his bottom will naturally hit the floor.
  • You should "click", praise, and give a treat as soon as his rear end hits the floor. Timing is key!
  • Reward him and repeat several times. Eventually you will be able to ask him to sit without using the treat as a lure and reinforce the behavior with lots of praise or other fun rewards.

Why It Works

Clicker training is like a game for your dog. He "wins" when he hears the clicking sound. It tells your dog exactly what he has done right. If you would like to try clicker training, you may want to take a class or purchase a book to learn the proper technique.

Talk to the Hand

Teaching your dog hand signals is surprisingly easy. When you make a verbal command, simply accompany it by a consistent hand signal. For example, you might tap your chest for “come,” or show him your palm for "sit." Eventually your dog will respond readily to your hand signals.

Stand Tall

Even if you are not interested in clicker training or hand signals, you should never underestimate the power of non-verbal communication. When you are working with your dog, keep your posture upright but not rigid, your voice firm and engaging (not loud) and maintain an upbeat, confident, style. Your dog will love and respect you even more for it!

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