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Why You Should Not Talk to Your Dog

How much do you talk to your dog on an average walk?

Do you know the actual number?

A little while ago, one of the people I hike with, Martin, posted on Instagram that he was using a counter (like what bouncers use for crowd control) to track how many times he spoke to his dog, Berrin, during their walks.

We all know that dogs communicate through body language. Martin wanted to see what happened if he tried to speak more dog and less human.

“By not talking, it actually worked better to get my dog to check in with me more,” he said. “Berrin seemed to be paying closer attention to me.”

Have you ever tried not talking to your dog?

Our hike group came about through our trainer, and one of the exercises she has all of her students do early in our classes is not talking to our dogs for a week.

The exercise is not about being mean to our dogs. It is about attention.

Why you should not talk to your dog

Help our dogs learn to pay attention to us by looking at us. Not by tuning out our voices. And helping us pay attention to our dogs. Watch them. See how they move and react and behave. Learn to speak dog.

It’s been a little while since Martin and Berrin went through the no-talking exercise, so at first Berrin seemed a bit uncertain when Martin wasn’t talking to him on walks.

“It was kind of throwing him off, and it was like he was saying, ‘What’s going on?’ But by not talking, he was actually staying closer to me,” Martin explained.

Martin also experienced his own uncertainty and forced himself to wait before calling out to Berrin or giving him a command.

“Every time I went to say something, I thought twice about it and waited a minute to see what happened. And he would turn and I would know I didn’t have to say anything because I know he’s coming back to me.”

Martin found that over a two-hour hike he was able to talk to Berrin just 20 times.

“The mountain bikes always throw me off,” he said. “In the pack [on one of our group hikes] I could probably do the whole walk without talking.”

Does your dog ever ignore you?

Most of us have experienced our dog ignoring us. Talk too much or repeat commands and our voices become just noise and dogs block us out. Not talking forces our dogs to tune into us in different ways.

When Baxter and I are hiking with our group, if we want to follow a particular trail, we go in that direction and don’t usually call our dogs. Some dogs wait at the fork, waiting to find out which way we’re going. Some may run up another trail a little ways, but once they see we’re not going that way, they catch up.

We’re leading them through body language and the bond we’ve built with them over time.

Body language is a big part of building that connection because then we’re speaking our dog’s language. When Baxter and Berrin greet each other or are hiking together, they don’t whine or bark at each other. Yet, they communicate and understand each other.

For Martin, he wanted to see what would happen if he communicated with Berrin in a different way. Would their training pay off? Was our trainer right that not talking strengthened our bond with our dogs? How would Berrin respond?

Why you should not talk to your dog

“It’s always about doing different stuff and getting the most fun out of my dog,” he said. “I want to have the ultimate connection or bond with Berrin.”

You can follow Martin and Berrin in Instagram at @leashes_grease_and_rocknroll.

Tips for not talking to your dog

1. Start small. Don’t talk to your dog when you first come home. Greet her with rubs or play, but don’t speak. Or maybe don’t speak to your dog at meal time. Put out his food and let him know through body language that he can eat.

2. Not talking on an off-leash hike. Off-leash in the woods you’ll likely feel anxious a few times. Make sure you have a good relationship with your dog and are comfortable hiking before you stop talking.

3. Use a counter. You may be surprised how many times you talk to your dog. A counter can help you keep track.

4. Count everything. A command, a comment, a whistle. These are all ways we communicate to our dogs.

5. Think about commands or behaviour you can teach or reinforce through body language. We have taught stay, come, down, sit, loose leash walking, wait to get out of the car/go through the door all through physical signals.

Have you ever tried not talking to your dog?

Julia Thomson is a regular writer to That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres here.

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