Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Pet Ponderings > Stop Talking – An experiment to try with your dog

Stop Talking – An experiment to try with your dog

September 3, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Winter

Winter

I’ve been conducting an experiment with my dogs over the past couple of days, and I have to admit it has been WAY more difficult than I thought it would be.

You see, when it comes to my dogs I’m a bit of a talker. I talk to them about what I’m going, what they’re doing, what they want to do (“Wanna go outside?”) and where they want to go (the dog park always gets a “yes”). I have conversations with them and they listen and turn their heads or perk their ears or come over for some attention. It’s an integral part of our daily routine.

But recently, I read a post (Why Does My Dog Ignore Me?) that was very similar to another post I read last year (“A Simple Trick for Calming a Hyper Dog“) about how much we talk to our dogs. The advice of both authors? Stop talking. You talk to much and your dog doesn’t care. They don’t communicate by talking, they communicate by body language.

Of course, I already knew that dogs communicated by body language. I also knew that we humans tend to overuse some words when it comes to our dogs (which brings to mind a dog at our dog park that we call “Marley Off” because that’s pretty much all she, and we, heard while she was there). It’s one of the reasons I started calling Jasper by another name (“Trouble”). I had used his real name so much when calling for him that he had learned to ignore me. Finding a new name, one he associated with fun, turned things around. But, I have never tried just shutting up, not saying anything to my dogs. Let me tell you it was hard.

But, I am also glad I did it. Why? Because I learned some things about myself and my dogs:

  1. I talk too much to my dogs.
  2. My dogs seem to already know this and ignore my over-communication .
  3. My dogs and I have a routine, so my not speaking to them made no difference to them because they already knew the routine.
  4. Cupcake follows me around the house, whether I speak to her or not. She wants to be where I am. Daisy and Jasper are used to the routine, so they know I’ll be back.
  5. All 3 of my dogs tend to follow the movements of my hands and body more than the words coming out of my mouth. Me opening the door and motioning for them to go through it had the same effect as me opening the door and asking them if they wanted to go outside.
  6. Jasper is tends to focus on what my eyes and my face are saying to him than the movements of my hands and body. He reads me specifically by watching to see if I am smiling or frowning, happy or sad.
  7. My dogs are much, much smarter than I ever gave them credit for (and trust me, I already knew they were smart).

All in all, I have to say it was quite the experiment. It definitely was hard. So many times I caught myself about to say something to them and then stop and just close my mouth. It’s definitely not easy being quiet.

But, I learned a lot about me and my dogs. I guess all that talking really is for me, not them. Will I stop talking to them? Probably not, but I will try talking less.  Maybe it will bring us both a bit of zen. 🙂

So now I am wondering… Has anyone else tried experimenting with their dogs like this? If so, what did you learn?  If not, will you try it? I would love to hear what you learn from it. 

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  1. denise.smith63@hotmail.com
    September 3, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    There was a t shirt with my teenager never listens they just hear blah blah etc this it true of dogs in my experience. I read that the teaching of hand signals is very useful as if a dog ever went deaf they could still respond. Paddi ( who we rescued) turned out to be very good at this and I can sometimes direct him from across the field on hand signals alone. If I ever had to train a puppy again I would be stricken with my self as Nutmeg used to switch off and I have never been able to completely undo some of her ” bad habits”!

  2. September 3, 2013 at 7:45 AM

    #1 is sooooo true. My mom is guilty of talking toooo much to me. I’m used to it … Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  3. slimdoggy
    September 3, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    Interesting. I don’t talk a lot to them, but dad does…so maybe I’ll get him to try this and see. I do tend to talk with maggie more because she sometimes needs coaxing to do something…s it will be interesting to see if I can coax her without talking. Will report back 😉

  4. September 3, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    I think dogs and cats like to have us talking to them as part of comforting attention, and our tone of voice is really important. Some of my soothing “speech” to my cats isn’t really English! I have soothing speech, play speech and I’d – be- so- happy- if – you – would – do this speech. And I know my singing makes a difference! …But in training, we learn that repeating their name or repeating commands is self-defeating, as you mentioned – Is my name Rover, or Rover Rover Rover Rover ROVER? Much of this is the same with kids. Keep it clear and simple or they will tune you out. Wait time is essential! But too much silence, I just don’t think is the best companionship, especially given that as humans our body language isn’t as specific as that of animals, and our voices are expressive.

    • September 3, 2013 at 8:50 AM

      In fact, in training classes, I have seen owners take the dog’s face in their hands and say, “what are you doing? You know better than to jump up!” Sheesh.

  5. September 3, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    This sounds very interesting Mel! I don’t know if I could do it though. I’m thinking I would have to have someone tape my mouth shut for the day!

  6. jan
    September 3, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    I can never stop talking to my dogs. I think that it builds their vocabularies but they seem to understand what is on my mind even before i use words.

  7. September 3, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    We’ve been told this by the trainer at the obedience classes where we take Ike. She says that we all talk to our dogs too much and so she first teaches with the hand signal. After the dog has learned the hand signal, then she adds the verbal command. I don’t know if it’s working well with Ike or not. He seems to learn okay but quickly forgets! lol. I like talking to my dogs, though, and even if it doesn’t do much good, hopefully it doesn’t hurt.

  8. September 3, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    I think because I grew up with cats for pets I’m generally don’t talk to the dogs (except for commands) or maybe I’m just a little quieter when I’m with the animals so for myself not talking to the dogs isn’t a big deal. CB first training class was with a company that challenges you not to talk to your dog while you are taking their course and it was easy for me but super challenging for my husband.

    I don’t know if it would have made a big difference for us as to how CB learned but I think it did for others in the class as it brought an awareness to them as to how much blah blah blah their dogs heard. I personally like the concept as it decreases the background noise for your dog and hopefully the verbal communication you want to use (like voice commands) stick better. And I think it worked for us especially once we started to compete with CB in agility.

    • September 3, 2013 at 10:13 AM

      And I think this far side cartoon explains it best (hope the link works)
      Larson: what dogs hear

      • Mel
        September 4, 2013 at 6:21 AM

        Totally awesome!

  9. September 3, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    I think my voice to them is like the radio to me – background noise but I still talk to them. I know it would be super hard not to!

    • Mel
      September 4, 2013 at 6:21 AM

      Yes. I think mine is too. It’s muzak to mine. 🙂

  10. September 3, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    Everyone I know says I talk too much, so Eko must think the same! I’ll have to try this experiment today and see how it goes.

    • Mel
      September 4, 2013 at 6:20 AM

      LOL! Good luck!

  11. Deedie
    September 3, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    I found that training is much easier when I don’t use words. I only use hand signals and body language and they pick things up quickly and seem calmer. Dogs, at least mine, get exited by the human voice and it is hard but I also found that they listen to my phone conversations and get excited and start barking when I use phrases they like (see ya soon). It is hard because they are with me all the time and I tend to chat…a lot!

  12. September 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    My husband is the blabber mouth of the family, while I talk more with my hands, eyes and body with the dogs. In fact, I’m learning to do just the opposite and talk with the dogs more. Especially when they are using their voice and we try to carry a conversation. So while being quiet with dogs is easy for me (something I learned very young), hubby would have a very hard time and I doubt he could do it!

  13. September 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    I started working with just hand signals and gestures for rally and was amazed. Also when we did the agility class he followed my motions more than my words. We couldnt get him to go through the tunnel until we figured out he knew I was stopping even though he couldnt see me. When I started walking to the other end of the tunnel he would run all the way through to come out at the other end. It amazed me that he just knew but the trainer said he was so focused on me that he could sense my body language! We even have to spell a lot of words cos he knows what they mean. Amazing creatures these dogs!

  14. cascadiannomads
    September 3, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    This is very interesting. After having an animal communicator visit with us in April, I have actually talked to my dogs more and things have gone a lot better! But what I have learned is that they only listen if I explain things calmly and monotone. Too positive/shrill or too negative/low and they tune out. Body language does work for “yes” and “no.”

    • Mel
      September 4, 2013 at 6:19 AM

      How interesting! So she suggested talking more? I try to keep my voice calm as often as possible because Daisy is so sensitive to voice tone. Do you notice a difference when you explain things to them?

  15. September 3, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    And here I thought that I should talk to BJ more, have more conversations. I’m afraid my neighbors will hear me and think I’m nuts.

    • Mel
      September 4, 2013 at 6:15 AM

      Now that would be quite funny. I wonder what kind of looks you would get from the neighbors? 🙂

  16. September 3, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    Oh, I don’t think I could stop talking to my dogs. I live by myself with them, so I like to talk to them so I don’t get bored or lonely (no worries, I have human friends just not in my home :).

    • Mel
      September 4, 2013 at 6:15 AM

      LOL! Jill – That is exactly my issue. I talk to mine because there is no one else to talk to here at home. I also have friends outside of home. 🙂

  17. September 3, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    I can’t stop talking to them, but I could talk less.

    • Mel
      September 3, 2013 at 10:12 PM

      LOL! I can relate.

  18. September 4, 2013 at 2:58 AM

    This is great! I go back and forth with this. When I start “nesting,” I tend to talk to Kayo more and give more affection. I try to keep talking to an extreme minimal when we’re out walking; sometimes I’m good when in the house but sometimes I lose focus. I think it’s a great experiment!

    • Mel
      September 4, 2013 at 6:09 AM

      Trust me. I “lost focus” many, many times. I talk to my dogs so often that it’s automatic. I kept forgetting to shut up. On the other hand, I did a whole training session with them last night and used not a word. That was pretty cool.

  19. September 4, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    I talk entirely too much to my dogs when we are in the house, I think more because I consider them part of the family and they are there and so I speak. But I don’t talk quite as much to them on our walks. The scary thing is, is it my need to speak that compels me to do this? If I stop talking to my dogs will I then begin to talk to myself. Scary thoughts. 😀

  20. September 4, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    I work from home, so it’s just me and Rita and I talk to her a lot! But when we worked with a trainer recently, he said not to talk to her too much when I’m working with her – like especially on a walk, since that is where she has issues with reactivity. He said my voice is like a reward to her, just as touch is, so not to talk to her on a walk – just keep things calm and neutral. Only talk to her when she’s being praised for, say, walking past another dog calmly. Seems to be helping. Besides… I probably look like less of a crazy lady. Okay to talk to the dog in the house. Not so much on the street….

    Interesting post!

  21. September 4, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    I’m not naturally much of a talker anyway (introvert). But I live alone so I talk to my animals, not excessively but they are the only ones around to hear me (captive audience). I do think that much of what I say to them is probably an excuse to talk out loud to myself haha. I have a few close friends but I don’t make it a habit to talk to them often, and I absolutely hate to talk on the phone. My friends and family understand so they don’t push me into uncomfortable social situations. But as far as talking to the animals, they do seem to pay attention when I talk although I know they’re thinking, “what is this crazy human trying to tell me?” My shy Molly is so attuned to my body language that she knows when I close my laptop that I’m leaving (going to bed or out) that she runs into her crate. She has also started doing that when I take my bedtime pills if I do that before closing my laptop. Sometimes she is mistaken though as when I close my laptop to read a book, or watch a movie. Wow, I wish I could train her that easily!

  22. September 5, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    “You talk too much and your dog doesn’t care.”

    Well, if they don’t care, why worry about not doing it? :p Plus they do communicate by talking, at least to some degree. It’s quite interesting what new sounds Cookie is coming up trying to convince JD to play. At first she’ll just posture. Then she’ll bark. Then she’ll go an octave higher. Then she’ll make all kinds of whiny and squeeky noises. She does talk alright.

    Dogs bark, growl, whine, whimper, yelp, howl and sometimes produce noises I don’t even have a description for.

    From the other side, our dogs do respond to things such as “Wanna go for a walk?” quite enthusiastically, so they do care.

    That said, I think not talking to our dogs IS a valuable exercise. We do talk to much. To our dogs, or in general. We talk so much that we can’t pay attention to anything else. So I imagine that not talking, one can learn all kinds of useful things about their dogs, and about themselves, as well as about their own body language.

    Wanna hear something funny? I even realized that I “talk too much” with my body. Now, “speed-training” Cookie, I often catch myself confusing her by some of my poorly timed or unneeded movements. And I have to learn to speak decisively with my body too!

    So you’re right. Let’s stop talking and lets start listening.

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