Top 6 Ways You Confuse Your Dog – American Kennel Club
Imagine being in an unfamiliar country where you don’t speak the language or know the rules and customs. Sounds a bit like being a dog in a human world, right? In truth, dogs are incredibly good at understanding humans. Much better than people speak canine. Even still, from misusing your dog’s name to confusing clues, many of your words and actions are potentially confusing. Read on to find out how you can confuse your pet.
1. Mixed messages
Dogs can learn to recognize familiar words and phrases. In fact, Chaser the Border Collie knew over 1,000 words. But that’s different from understanding language. For example, English contains many words that mean the same thing, such as leaping, leaping, and leaping. You may be able to use them interchangeably, but your dog will not. For example, if you are teaching them to jump over an obstacle in agility, choose a signal word and stick to it. Using multiple signals for the same behavior will only confuse your dog and slow down the learning process.
It’s equally confusing if you use the same signal for multiple behaviors. For example, if you ask your dog to lay on the floor and say “down,” you can’t use “down” to mean “get off the couch.” It’s especially disconcerting if your dog is already lying on the furniture. Instead, choose a single, unique cue for each behavior and then use it reliably. Involve all other family members so your dog receives consistent communication instead of mixed messages.
2. Inconsistent Rules
Everyone breaks the rules from time to time, like cheating on a diet. But dogs love routine and are easily confused when expectations are inconsistent. For example, if you want to prevent your dog from jumping up on people, you can never let them jump. If you allow it when you’re wearing jeans but not when you’re in work clothes, your dog will never grasp the distinction. It’s also stressful and unfair because your dog will never know when his actions are welcome and when they’re not. To eliminate confusion, set boundaries and make sure everyone in the house sticks to them.
3. Mismanaged Names
Although dogs may be self-aware, they are unlikely to consider their name as part of their identity. A dog’s name actually means “my human’s focus is directed towards me.” It’s an attention signal that tells your dog that your next words are for him. If you overuse your dog’s name, you risk it becoming meaningless to your dog – just another human chatter in the background. And if you use your dog’s name to scold him or other unwanted events like nail clipping, your dog will form a negative association with the word. Rather than standing up when they hear their name, they will slip away and hide.
You should also avoid names that sound too similar to words you use as clues. Sid sounds too much like sitting, for example. Recent research has looked at word processing in dogs and found that while dogs can distinguish nonsense words from clues, when it comes to similar sounding words, dogs are easily confused. So choose a distinctive name, teach your dog to associate it with rewards and positive experiences, and then use it only when you want your dog’s attention.
4. Scream and punish
Remember that dogs don’t speak human languages. Saying “bad dog” or explaining to them why they shouldn’t chew on sneakers won’t teach them anything. It’s like trying to reason with a baby. They just don’t understand. And if you shout, you will only add to the uncertainty. Yelling tells your dog you’re upset, but he doesn’t know why. Yelling can also scare your dog, erode your bond, and create anxiety. Now, the next time your dog wants to chew on your sneaker, he’ll slip away to do it in private.
Additionally, many canine behaviors that people see as a problem are simply dogs being dogs. Dogs don’t know why they shouldn’t dig in your yard or drink from the toilet, so punishing them is incredibly confusing. It’s much more effective to redirect your dog to more acceptable behaviors and teach him what you want him to do instead. Then, when they perform these alternative actions, use positive reinforcement to ensure they choose to do them again in the future.
5. Late reactions
If you catch your dog doing unwanted behaviors like chewing on furniture, you need to stop him and redirect him to something more appropriate. But what if you don’t catch them in the act? Scolding a dog afterwards is confusing and doesn’t tell him anything about what he did earlier. Dogs live in the moment. Chastising a puppy for a potty accident that happened just a minute ago is unnecessary and harmful. The only thing they will learn is how unpredictable you can be. Instead, clean up the accident and take a closer look next time.
6. Unpleasant consequences
Dogs associate behaviors with their consequences. If sitting down gives them a treat, they will feel good about sitting down. And the reverse is true. If you ask your dog to come and then give him a bath or take him to the vet, he will be much less likely to come in the future. Your recall signal should always be followed by something wonderful or you risk your dog running the other way. The same goes for your other signals. For example, if you use the drop signal to tell your dog to drop something, once you remove that item, you need to replace it with something at least as valuable or your dog won’t want to. give it up next time.
Although dogs want to please their people, they still have their own selfish interests that influence their choices. Don’t expect your dog to do what you ask just because you say so. Make it worth it for your dog to listen and obey. Create positive consequences for the behavior you want to repeat. A dog that has consistent signals, established rules, and positive training will be much less confused about what you want and much happier giving it to you.