Imagine you are headed for a destination with a friend navigating for you.
You are anticipating getting somewhere fun and you are ready to go.
This trip requires some quick turns and precise help from the navigator.
You hear your navigator say, “turn right.” But there are 3 driveways, which one will you be turning into?
Then, you hear them say, NOW!”
So you turn like a bat mobile in flight.
What do you do next?
Almost immediately you hear, “We have to turn left.” Your heading is spinning as you wonder, "When and where?"
Then, you hear the navigator sigh, “We missed the turn. I said turn LEFT.” But there were three drive ways into the parking lot?
The navigator has you turn around at the same time that you hear her screech loudly, “Now! Turn RIGHT!” By this time you are totally confused because the same three driveways are available.
You know and like your navigator. You want her to be happy. Instead, she is getting really annoyed.
You want to keep the friendship with your navigator in tact so you turn into one of the drives, feeling confused, scared, or maybe a bit annoyed.
Feel into that experience for a second.
That’s how a dog can feel without clear signals from us, their navigators in this world.
I'll share 4 kinds of signals with you.
As an example of giving concise signals and offering clear communication, let’s talk about asking a dog to come to us.
I am assuming, of course, that fabulous treats are handy. 🙂
Space and Body
Where are you standing and how far are they away from you?
When your sweet dog arrives, when will you give a click or marker word?
If this dog is not good at coming or does not know this game yet, what position does your body need to be in?
Are you standing, squatting or kneeling down at eye level to him?
What is the tone of your voice? Are you happy and upbeat in a way that he is used to hearing you speak when you are happy?
What pitch of voice are you using?
Science tells us that dogs respond to higher pitched sounds for a recall.
If he gets a whiff of the treats, that may start off the process with him being quite eager.
It’s a lot of fun to watch a dog get excited about this time we spend with them playing games of treats, toys and love.
I love thinking of teaching and communicating as a game and not “training” which can become too serious.
BTW, I am not suggesting that you show him the treats.
Actually it’s better if you don’t.
You want to call, saying his name, and get a response.
When you give the marker word or click your clicker THEN show the treat.
As your amazing dog figures out what “come” means, the important part that happens is the miracle for me.
At some point, they learn to read us so well, that we can make a small gesture and they will prepare to come.
Then, this game gets even cooler when you develop such a close bond of trust that you “think” come and they are already poised to come to you.
That takes time and some dogs, like some people, are more sensitive to subtleties.
Sometimes I simply blow it
Like feeling that I need to stick to a preconceived goal for each time I play this game.
What about realizing that? ...
- Every game has to be flexible.
- And each dog is unique.
- Some days our dogs are just not as excited to play, especially when they are learning and it is difficult or challenging for them.
I am bringing this up because I found myself getting over-eager to teach my rescue dog, Katie, to come.
We made great progress and I assumed she could continue, build and was ready for more of the game.
And one day, when I called, she ignored me.
Hmmm… she had been consistent and doing well with the game.
So I went through a checklist in my head of what I need to consider for how I want to show up for her:
- space and body,
- sound (voice),
- scent and
But what about how she is showing up for me?
And I realized that if I had paid attention, she had been a bit aloof at breakfast.
That happens sometimes if neighbor dogs come by for a visit.
They scare her and she reverts to a withdrawn state.
I also noticed that when I came outside to greet her, she didn’t look up.
AND when she didn’t make eye contact, I didn’t think to play “look” at me so we could engage.
I was focused on the game of “come” that I planned for us to play.
And I was standing when I called, so she would not feel as confident as she would if I squatted down.
So I regrouped after calling her name a few times too many and saying the word “come” which she knew but which took a lower priority to her fear that day.
As I squatted down near her and asked her to “take it” and unfolded my palm full of yummy treats, she eagerly took them but then withdrew into her familiar, forlorn shell like a snail who wants to hide and be safe.
After a few rounds of “take it,” I asked for “look” because I could feel that she was ready to come out a little bit more.
Gradually she looked at me and then she got up and came near and sniffed my hair with her body showing signs of relaxing.
Her ears were no longer pulled back and her tail was soft and low moving gently as palm leaf in a soft breeze.
I had tears in my eyes as this sweet dog licked my hand and plopped down right next to me.
I realized that she did “come” to me that day just not in the way or in the time I had expected.
As a rescue dog, she has some issues about fear and anxiety and I don’t know their cause.
And I don’t focus on her possible past trauma.
She is teaching me how to be with her in the present, with love and respect.
If your rescue dog is expressing behaviors that you know need to shift, I can share some incredible tools with you.
CLICK HERE and I’ll reveal love-filled, creative ways to care for your rescue dog’s unique temperament and needs.
I found that every single day, with love leading the way, I can connect, communicate, teach and learn from Katie and create the life for her that I dreamed of when we first began our journey.
Enjoy the daily ride with your dog. It's never a dull moment.
Letting love lead the way,
Image Credit: Flicker—KemalY