Language Matters

language matters

By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA

If you have taken classes with me (especially Puppy Pre-School and Advanced Manners), you probably have heard me talk about the importance of language. The language we use when we are talking about our dogs makes a difference.

Our language sets the tone of our relationship with our dogs and by extension, influences the way we train.

Let’s look at the word “command”. Again, those of you who have worked with me know I hate this word! Command implies “do it or else”. If we continue to use a word like “command” we reinforce the belief (and the behaviors associated with that belief) that we are in “control” of our animals and they must listen to us “or else”. When they don’t listen, we feel frustrated, embarrassed, angry, etc. We then label our animals “stubborn”, “dumb”, “impossible to train”, etc.

The word “cue”, on the other hand, has a totally different context when you hear it. It implies a conversation with your dog. There is a no “or else” to that word. It’s so simple, scientifically accurate and easy to understand!

Another example is “obey” versus “communicate”. Again, “obey” implies “or else.” There is little choice involved when someone tells us to obey. However, if we are “communicating” with our dogs, it again implies a conversation and a feedback loop.

This also comes in to play when we start labeling our dogs instead of reporting their behavior. Some common labels are: “dominant”, “submissive”, “stubborn”, “stupid”, “aggressive”, “independent”, etc. I am sure you have heard (or used) some of these! As we know, labels are subjective. What one person would consider “aggressive”, another may not.

They also do not give us any information about what the dog is actually doing.

Think about the words you are using when you talk about your dog. Do they imply a relationship full of communication and feedback? Are you labeling your dog or talking about the behavior you see?

Stay Curious!