So you are mastering the art of sitting quietly with your dog, of paying attention to what he notices on walks, to using your body language to give a message.  This is good.  But what about words?  What about the way we humans communicate with each other?  How do you do that with a dog?

It’s best, of course, since our languages are not our canine friends’ natural languages, to start with one word at a time.  Begin with a name, short, simple, not embarrassing (the clever joke might not seem so clever years hence).  Once your dog knows his name, you can begin to teach the basic commands that make life safer for him and saner for you.  Sit is a good place to begin, but always say sit when that’s what you mean, never Sit Down, which is, after all, two commands.  And don’t fancy things up with unnecessary additions, adjectives, phrases, tirades.  Let your dog concentrate on a word and quickly come to understand that that sound means something, something you want him to do.  To ease his learning, let him know he got it right.  A simple “Good!” or “Good dog!” will do the trick.  As you may know already, I am not a gadget trainer.  I like things to be personal.  I like my dog to understand clearly that I am pleased with what he just did.  Or not so pleased with what he just did or didn’t do.  A simple “no” works fine for the latter and no, it’s not a crime.  It’s education.  It’s clarity, something dogs crave.

Onward.  As you teach the skills that will give your dog a larger life – allow him one day to be off leash in the park, visit friends with you, take wondrous journeys to parts previously unknown to both of you, hang with his friends and leave when it’s time to go, take food without biting or grabbing, lie down next to the table when you are eating, ride nicely in the car, etc. etc. etc. – you will find that things go more quickly as you continue to teach.  Bravo!  And then you will find that sometimes when you are speaking to another human, your dog reacts as if he understands.  That is because you have taught him slowly and carefully how to pay attention to words.  Now you may start to say “Find the ball,” or “Do you want to go out?” and you will see that light in your dog’s eyes that says, “Mmmm, got it.  And, yes, yes, yes!”

Still, you shouldn’t over-talk to your dog. Dogs appreciate quiet time and more than that, walks where they aren’t told to do much of anything special except to be themselves.  Even when your dog is a very, very good dog – he has, say, just done something you wanted him to do for the first time – he only needs to be told “Good.”  OK, “Good!!!” if it’s something special.  He doesn’t need a speech or a sandwich.  Here’s the thing, fellow dog lovers, he knows when he gets it right and he knows when you are pleased.  He might enjoy a little praise, but not a brass band.  Dogs are contemplative creatures.  They like to think about the world and about you.  They are life long learners and love to master new games, new tricks, new commands.  But most of all they like the kind of conversation that has no words, the kind that says “Let’s do something interesting now, you and me.  I’m going to think my own thoughts and you can do the same.  But don’t let that fact make you think I’m not paying attention to you, or that I don’t love you to Pluto and back.  Because I will and I do.  Get your leash.  We’re out of here.”  All without saying a thing.  My favorite kind.