Are you having emotional conversations with your dog?
First let's look at conversation starters that reach out to a dog that we have a relationship with already. This starter is probably a bit easiest for both human and dog because they generally start when we are in the happy, more relaxed realm. Arriving home might start a conversation simply because we've spent time apart and are now together again, but this can be filled with elevated emotions. Instead I want to focus on developing conversation starters when both you and your dog are feeling safe, calm, and happy. Here are a few conversation starters you might already be doing.
- Your dog starts the conversation by waking you up in the morning. We know that is their way to say it's time to outside.
- You might start a new conversation a bit later asking them if they want to come inside for breakfast. This might lead to begging them to come in for breakfast if you have a husky that loves to stay out.
- While relaxing in the day, your dog might role up on their back, belly up and wag their tail begging you to come rub their belly.
- Your dog might bring you a toy indicating they want to play.
Let's look at conversation starters designed to improve our training sessions.
- Over-excitement often starts in the car therefore we need to start the conversation in the car! We might prefer some fast music on the drive, but tuning the radio to a slower station or even a podcast can help bring that energy level down. We can even pull over and park somewhere to help our dogs calm down a bit if needed. The Canine Car Club would be great for anyone who really struggles with excitement in the car! Azul as learned that we simply won't get out of the car until his energy calms down a bit and he is in an emotional state where he can hear my cues.
- Another place where excitement rapidly increases is when we step out of the car and the dog's nose hits the ground running. Since we are looking forward to the end of the walk, we want to take off right away but that again sets the tone for a bad conversation. Instead we do some work near the car until we see our dog's energy and emotions hit a much better state. With the dog's nose driving this need to go sniff, this is often a time to use our smelliest reinforcement to start the conversation. I might let Azul reach that very first sniff spot, moving us out of the parking lot and into some green space but then we are going to stay there long after he is done sniffing that space and returns his focus on me. In this moment, he still wants to race to the next smell and his focus on me begs me to GO. This is where we can use our smelly treats in a scatter feed in the grass or doing a hand target game or playing any games that build value for our dogs sniffing with us instead of by themselves.
- Once we start on our walk, inevitably a distraction almost always pops up and it's time for another conversation starter. You could look at the entire walk as one long conversation, yet we don't typically stay engaged with our dogs the whole walk. The conversation might start out with tons of back and forth communication, but then 1 party gets mildly distracted leading to both parties doing their own thing for a bit until someone starts the conversation again a bit later. When a distraction pops up in the environment, we need to start that conversation back up ASAP and make it an engaging conversation that brings our dogs back to us. We all know boring conversations end quickly because we simply stop participating. We may not want to jump to a high energy starter because we don't want to raise our dog's energy level any higher than we need to. But we do have to match or slightly one up the energy level coming from the distraction to help our dogs choose us.