Dog behavior and training

Your dog may like to watch TV with you, but he’s a wild animal at heart. He has many of the same instincts and drives that his ancestors did. With a little practice you can learn to use these behaviors to your advantage when you train your dog.

Two of the most important dog behaviors for training are the pack instinct and body language.

The pack instinct . Dogs are a pack animal which means they have a desire to live in a pack or family group. Within the pack is a well-defined structure with a pack leader at the top and other dogs in positions beneath him. Because this is how dogs are predisposed to view the world, they see every interaction with people from this perspective.

Dog body language . Since your dog can’t carry on a conversation, the best way to get to know him is to listen with your eyes. Your canine companion talks to you all the time through dog body language. Sometimes it’s clear what your dog wants to say, like when he wags his tail to greet you or barks when there’s danger. But a lot of your dog’s body language can go unnoticed if you don’t pay attention.

How you can use these behaviors in dog training

The pack mentality and body language should play an integral part in your dog training exercises.

First, always be the pack leader. Your dog has a natural drive to follow the pack leader, so if you assume the position he’ll be ready to listen and take directions during training. Being a pack leader doesn’t mean you have to be unkind to your dog. It just means you need to be focused and assertive. Learn how to give an obedience training command with authority and don’t give a command unless you can make your dog obey.

Second, use your body language consciously to train your dog. Express what you want your dog to do both with your voice and your body. When you give your dog a training command use strong gestures and feel confident. When you reward your dog smile and let your excitement flow. Ninety percent of communication is nonverbal, whether it’s with other people or with your dog, so learn to use your presence effectively. If you find it hard to express yourself, try to mimic the movements of someone you admire or someone you’ve seen with the attitude you need. With a bit of practice it’ll become second nature.

Third, learn to read your dog’s body language. Like people, every dog learns differently. The more you understand your dog’s body language (is he frustrated? bored?) the easier it will be to train him in a way that works best for him.

When you work with your dog’s natural behaviors, including the pack instinct and body language, you begin to communicate with your dog in a way that he understands. That’s part of the art in dog training.

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