Humans are a species that utilize language to convey wants or needs.  It’s a basic enough concept; but it’s becomes more complicated when communicating with another species. From a young age, humans learn or develop language to properly communicate to others within their species. It’s quite impressive how humans can use a variety of words for one thing and other humans are capable of interpreting the correct meaning. Dogs too can interpret human messages but sometimes the language is too complicated or overused. Below are simple guidelines to eliminate common errors between dog-human communication.

You’re the Boss

You went through weeks of training class (there’s a certificate on the fridge to prove it!). You had a dog that would “Come” on command even in the face of his favorite stuffed buddy. But the weeks passed and the consistency of your training faded into the business. Alas, your dog is still behaving “well enough” and only jumps “every once and awhile.” But, your dog no longer comes to you immediately when you call him (even when your voice starts to reach notes only heard in a choir!).

You’ve lost your touch but it can be fixed! Most likely, you’ve been giving your dog mixed signals. Sometimes he can jump and sometimes he gets instructed not to do so. He can be up on the couch but only when guests (or you) are not present. He will sit for a treat but is reluctant to if distracted. By putting your voice into agitated chaos, your dog would rather do anything but come to you (he might get in trouble if he does!). Also, your “come” command may have come out with a tinge of irritability. The inconsistency is confusing and frustrating to all parties involves.


Maintaining a level-headed nature when instructing your dog breeds greater success. He is able to clearly understand what is being asked of him. Instruct your dog for all commands using:

  1. Name First. Use the dog’s name to grab attention and reiterate as to whom the following command is directed.
  2. Followed by the Command. Assert your command but do not yell. Eliminate influxes in pitch caused by unnecessary emotions (frustration, agitation, anger).
  3. Say Once… Then Show.  Dictate the dog’s name followed by the command. Allow the dog the opportunity to do as requested. If not completed, kindly put your dog into the requested command. (With skills that your dog is fluent, the action should be immediate. If still learning, allow time to contemplate then show.)
  4. Treat Good Behavior. Praise correct completed commands. This can be with a savory goodie or simple petting and verbal praise.

Consistency is Key

After successfully training your dog to “Sit”, use that command only when requesting him to put his rear to the floor. Many humans can think of a time that “SIT DOWN!” was used instead of a calm “Sit”. In this case, the dog received TWO commands and also perceived the commands in an agitated fashion. An excited voice, rather, gets the dog excited and results in fewer completed commands. He might even go and get a toy to play with!

Dogs are smart creatures but cannot be expected to understand everything that crosses human’s highly capable, complex minds. Naturally, humans are prone to repetition. Reflect on a conversation that someone might encounter regularly. The word “hello” becomes “hey”, “hi”, or “yo” over time. Also, in saying “I’m doing well”, it could mean someone’s feeling healthy or even that her day is proceeding desirably. Humans tend to convey similar messages by varying the words or the syntax slightly. This practice helps humans remain interesting in social contexts.

This skill, pulled from human communication, presents a challenge to dogs: figure out what the heck all those extra words mean. Most dogs fare well enough and can glean a glimpse of what’s expected. If the words are jostled up or include extraneous words the intended message is poorly received.

Use one word for each command and use ONLY that word to mean ONLY that command. “Down” should mean “lay with your belly touching the floor” and “Off” should be used for “get off of” me, the neighbor or the postman. “Down” cannot mean both “lay” and “get off” as these actions are thought of differently in the dog’s mind. (You can use “down” for “get off” if you use a different word for “lay with your belly on the floor”.)

Keep the learning simple and straight-forward. Being wishy-washy signals that following commands is optional. This isn’t the correct message to send when a command might need to be used to save your dog’s life.

Happy Training!

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