I am a strong advocate of talking to your dog to build the kind of relationship that gets results. But sometimes our verbal diarrhea gets in the way of the message we are trying to convey. I just took Ash for what turned out to be one of the best walks we ever had, and I hardly said a word to her. But I obviously communicated to her very clearly and in a way she could understand because she didn't pull - at all.
A little background: Six years ago, before I became a dog trainer, we adopted Ash. She was 2 at the time and came with some bad habits, like pulling on the leash. I tried choke collars, jerking on the leash, all those old-school ways of dog training, and none of them worked. I eventually stopped walking her because I absolutely hated the experience. She probably wasn't very fond of it either. Fast forward to 3 years ago when I went to school to become a dog trainer and learned how to properly teach a dog how to walk nicely on a leash. Ash and I now walk a lot, and it is an enjoyable experience every time, although I often have to tell her to "slow down" as she forges ahead. She will pull a bit if she sees a squirrel, rabbit, or other critter, but today she didn't. She just stood there and watched a squirrel, then looked at me, then looked back at the squirrel, then back at me. This went on for a minute or two, then we went on our way. So, what secret form of communication did I use to get this incredible result? A clicker.
I've used a clicker on our walks before. I teach other people to walk their dogs using a clicker. But I've never used JUST the clicker. I usually tell the dogs "heel", "let's walk", or "slow down" to try to teach what I want them to do, and when they do it I click and treat them with a piece of food to reinforce the behavior they just did. But I just wasn't getting those stellar results I was looking for. This time I decided to try something different. I shut my mouth, and it worked! (My wife has been telling me that for years!)
So I challenge you. Teach your dog something without saying a word. It's easier than you think. Dogs don't speak our language anyway, but they do understand our body language. They do understand when they've done something right as long as we communicate that to them (with a clicker!). And they will do it again if they are reinforced with something they really like.
Go ahead. Just shut up and do it!
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, CTDI