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Ten Forms of Silent Communication

In This Chapter

If your goal is to share your life with a dog who enjoys minding you and prioritizes your opinion, you can influence your dog’s behavior in many ways — all without saying a word.
Humans and dogs differ in communication style. People talk and talk and talk. We learn by listening. Dogs, on the other hand, learn by watching, taking direction by mirroring, and looking to others. Because your dog can’t internalize your life experience, it’s your responsibility to translate your message into a medium that she can understand and relate to. In other words, be quiet and start communicating silently.

Eye Contact

Your dog is clever, and she likes to interact and communicate with you. Your vocal responses, however, aren’t an ideal indicator of your attention because you talk all day long. From her perspective, your eye contact is the surest determinant: eye contact, negative or positive, ensures your interaction.
If you’re looking at your dog, she’ll repeat the behavior that succeeded in getting your attention, again, 100 percent guaranteed.
Eye contact is so important that it influences your dog’s behavior throughout the day. The following list shows you how simple eye contact acknowledgement influences your dog’s behavior throughout the day:
For more ideas on how to resolve these problems, please refer to Part IV.

Body Posture

Your dog is even more attuned to your body posture than another human is. Imagine seeing a loved one hunched over: Your immediate hesitation would be completely normal as you fumbled to help them or inquired as to their dilemma.
The moment you hunch your body, your dog must interpret what, if anything, is wrong with you and/or the situation. Other dogs hunch for one of three reasons:
Here’s a quick tip to get your dog to come. Make a loud rancorous shouting noise to alert your dog’s attention, but instead of beaconing or chasing her, simply hunch over and scratch the ground. Curiosity will ensure her participation.
Upright and relaxed is the ideal posture when directing your dog or trying to influence her calm cooperation in stressful situations.


No one can argue the influence of a loving touch. Furthermore, with dogs, touch symbolizes status: A respected, dominant dog is permitted to sniff or prod her group members for no other reason than a commitment to the group’s well-being.
Choose a time when your dog is naturally calm and chaos is minimal. Flatten your hand like a paddle and stroke your dog in long, soothing strokes. Talk calmly as you do so and touch your dog’s nose to tail. Though your dog’s paws are sensitive to touch, stroke each individually; if she hesitates, treat your dog to ensure a more positive association to toe touches.

Your Demeanor

Attitude is everything! Your dog learns, judges, and respects you based not on what you say but how you act. This silent communication is ongoing 24/7: If you’re successful in playing the role of a confident, self-assured leader, your dog will look to and respect your direction. Fake this attitude even when you’re unsure what to do next.
When you’re teaching your dog a new routine or introducing her to an unfamiliar circumstance, act comfortably familiar with the situation. Your assurance reassures your dog. Repeated directions, on the other hand, confuse and may frighten her. Your silent example will be all the reassurance she needs.
Plan your reactions to daily situations ahead of time so that you limit your befuddlement and thus give your dog the reassurance that you’re knowledgeable enough to handle and direct her through all of life’s events.


Your attention is your dog’s chief motivation in life, and he spends hours targeting the behaviors that ensure your interaction. Without this mutuality, your relationship couldn’t exist. If you can embrace the power of your connection, then it’s easy to deduce that withdrawing your attention can shape your dog’s behavior for the better or worse.
Pay attention when she’s stolen a slipper, but ignore her when she’s quietly chewing a bone, and it’s easy to predict which behavior she’ll repeat. Ignore her when she calmly greets you with a toy, but react to her when she acts like a jumping bean — guess what she’s going to repeat? Outline the ideal responses to everyday situations, from chewing a bone while you’re watching TV or fetching her ball when she wants your attention, and then focus on this good behavior!
Sometimes the easiest solution to remedy negative behaviors is to simply fold your arms in front of your face (which signals a withdrawal in group interaction) or leave (promptly ending interaction). The behavior that results in these responses will be quickly abandoned in favor of what works!

Mirrored Motion

If you want to rile up anyone, person or dog, all you need to do is jump around and act crazy. If you notice that your dog’s behavior is often manic and out of control, look at your response. Does your blood pressure escalate? If so, you’re mirroring your dog’s reaction, which only makes matters more chaotic, not less. A better approach is to reverse the trend:
If your dog is sensitive to sound distractions, such as the doorbell or the vacuum, lead your dog on a leash and ask a helper to simulate the sound periodically while you direct her nonchalantly. (If she’s overexcited, read about red zones in Addressing and Solving Problem Behavior.) Though she may react excitedly initially, she will soon mirror your calmer response.

Looking at Your Dog Less

If you follow your dog around, inside or out, she’ll think you need a lot of direction. For example, if she grabs objects or gravel and you shout and chase her, in her mind, you’re playing a game. Her object focus will not diminish, and neither will your frustration.
Your dog can learn by your example: Play with her toys, investigate appropriate obstacles, such as a wood pile or rock outcropping, or chase a squirrel. Choose an appropriate digging area or erect a sandbox and play there until she joins you.

Hand Signals

Dogs watch, people listen. Adjust your teaching to a medium your dog is most comfortable with — incorporating hand signals with your spoken directions. A dog who watches for direction is less likely to wander out of sight. Here are a few hand signals to try:

Body Position

Whoever stands in front is in charge. When walking your dog near roadways or in unfamiliar environments, teach her to follow your lead. When the unpredictable happens, such as the approach of a dog or stranger, she will automatically look to you and mirror your response.
In addition, teach your dog to respect your authority at the doorways — what she considers the mouth of your den.
Teach your dog “Back” (in Happy Training, Happy Tails), using it before greeting visitors. Always encourage containment and focus before entering and exiting.

Lure Touching

Imagine someone repetitively shouting directions at you — “Pass the ketchup, the ketchup, the ketchup.” You’d neither want to listen or cooperate, and an escalating tone would only make matters worse. Your dog feels the same way!
A far better approach to teaching your dog a new direction is to be silent as you use food bits or a favorite toy to lure your dog into a chosen position, such as “Sit,” or “Down,” as described in Happy Training, Happy Tails. Once your dog is comfortable with the posture, you can associate a one-word cue with it. However, the real learning process occurred in silence.
by Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson
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