It has always been my aim to empower dog owners with the necessary tools to work effectively with and understand their beloved pets. The mission of this post is not so much to show owners what to do but to open a line of communication between dog and person. Along the way, I hope to remove some of the mystery surrounding canine behavior, in order to create and implement realistic training goals that will lead to a beautiful, long-lasting friendship.
A training session is as much a training of the owner as it is of the dog. I show an owner what to look for and encourage him or her to become more connected to the animal so that bonds may forge and grow. In many cases, there is as much time spent unlearning as there is learning. Thanks primarily to the Internet, every dog person comes equipped with information and misinformation alike.
It’s been said that I “speak dog.” However, I think it is more accurate to say that I “listen dog.” If I have a secret, that’s it, and I believe this practice is entirely underused. I also wholly believe there is no “one size fits all” approach to the training of dogs.
As an interpreter between us earthlings and these alien creatures, I often come from the point of view of the dog. In fact, I find dogs easier to understand than most people. There is more information than ever on our beloved pets, yet the gap between dogs and owners is ever widening. Worse still, new approaches to dog ownership and training are being peddled like fad diets and creating much unneeded confusion. In this book, I will endeavor to bridge this gap by focusing my attention on what matters: our four-legged kids with tails.
Speaking dog means having unspoken communication between human and animal—and it is a two-way street. We listen to the dog, and the dog listens to us. Sometimes we even agree to disagree (like when my pit bull, Pacino, seems intent on soliciting affection from every passing stranger in New York City while I am trying to walk in solitude). We compromise. As in any relationship, there are misunderstandings. When I am not understood, I try to listen and adjust my message until it is understood. Dogs are constantly working to convey what they’re trying to say; unfortunately, we either don’t listen or don’t understand. New owners often have unrealistic expectations of how a dog should behave and may be surprised by even garden-variety behaviors. Dogs will bark, bite, chew, and dig, and may consider a soft welcome mat an ideal place to urinate. These tendencies will remain unchanged unless directed to more appropriate outlets. We should never wish to put a halt to the natural activities that make dogs dogs.
So how do we listen to a dog? To understand the language of dogs, we must listen with our eyes. And we must do so in a place where we are so bombarded by stimuli that we can barely hear ourselves think. Unfortunately, as the stressors of life increase, dogs have suffered right along with us.
There is an expression: “If you stick with the basics, you never have to go back to basics.” Reconnecting or connecting with a member of the canine family is about as basic and cathartic an activity as exists on God’s green earth. It is primal, nourishing, and restorative for the soul. Dogs are great bellwethers for what is ailing us; sadly, they are also unintended victims of our issues du jour. Shelters are overflowing with unwanted dogs, often abandoned by those who sought “a best friend.” This is nothing short of a modern-day tragedy that goes largely overlooked. Dogs cannot voice their displeasure with our decision to treat them like disposable household items; nor can they protest our unfair expectations to have them behave like something other than dogs. My business partner and co-writer, David Donnenfeld, will tell you that having a dog is “like having half a child,” and I believe he’s right.
Responsible pet ownership should be worn like a loose garment made of breathable fabric and not feel like a wet blanket of burden. This is not a step-by-step training manual, because no one needs one. We need guidelines, not gospel. The tagline of my dog care company (and the title of this book), The Language of Dogs, calls for “obedient owners and happy dogs.” Although that’s tongue in cheek, an owner does need to make some sacrifices in order to have a healthy, well-balanced dog. This includes things like frequent walks, regardless of the size of one’s backyard. I strongly encourage owners to construct a plan that takes into account their dog’s preferences (maybe “obedient” isn’t quite so tongue in cheek after all). Children do not come with a single set of instructions, and if they did, what parent would follow them to the letter? Parents get to know their child and adjust accordingly. The same methodology should also apply to dogs. As I stated before, I believe in guidelines created by informed owners with a willingness to “speak” some dog.