Mixed Signals: What You Are Really Telling Your Dog?

Dogs are pretty clever; they learn that certain human actions mean certain things. For example, they know that when you pick up their leash, it’s time to go for a walk. What you might not realise is they are taking in ALL your actions—even the ones you do in between training sessions—and those might seem inconsistent or mean different things to a dog. These unwitting actions can undermine your training efforts.

Dogs and humans interpret the world differently

Your dog only wants to please you, but while you probably believe you are communicating clearly about your expectations, your behaviour may actually be confusing them. What if you are accidentally contradicting yourself with your own body language? Here are some common miscommunications:

Who is responsible for setting the rules?

More often than not, humans who think their dog has been deliberately misbehaving have in fact muddied the rules and boundaries. From the dog’s perspective, if the human isn’t showing clear leadership, someone has to make the decisions, right? This is how dogs come to believe that they are in charge.

So how does this happen? Are you letting your dog walk ahead of you when you go up or down stairs, letting them pull you along when you take walks, or letting them in or out when they bark? Do you give them attention whenever they request it?

These examples may all seem like small behaviours, but they add up. Letting your dog’s behaviour dictate your response can absolutely result in giving them the idea they call the shots, and that’s not good for either of you.

Setting a bad example with normal human activities

If you don’t want your dog to do something, you should take care not to exhibit that behaviour yourself. For example, if you don’t want your dog digging up your yard, don’t demonstrate this behaviour by gardening in front of them. They won’t be able to understand the difference.

Similarly, if you don’t want your dog to chew on your expensive loafers, don’t allow them to chew on an old, worn out running shoe. If you don’t want your pet to beg for scraps, don’t give them the odd piece off of your plate. Doing these things even once will demonstrate that the behaviour might in fact be permissible.

Be sure that the other members of the family follow the same rules!

Yelling is just noise and bluster

Correcting your dog’s behaviour requires clarity and guidance, not yelling and reacting. On top of this, it’s too easy to forget that they cannot understand your spoken language, and their dog brains will not connect your yelling with a behaviour they have completed in the past. What they actually see is a human who is behaving in an unbalanced, or even scary way, and they won’t know why. This can erode their trust in you, especially if it happens frequently.

Dogs learn best in the moment, and when you’re acting like a confident leader: calm, quiet, and non-reactive.

Dogs do want to be led, but they need clear, consistent leaders to teach them the rules and demonstrate leadership.

As always, if you need some one-on-one assistance, your local Bark Busters trainer would be happy to help!