Excerpt From The Evolution of Dog Training by Shannon Riley-Coyner
One of the best ways to start helping your dog deal with fearful or stressful situations is to begin communicating by teaching them English as a second language (ESL). ESL was originally used in education as a method to help people from foreign countries to learn English. Because dogs communicate primarily through body language and humans primarily use verbal language, we must essentially teach dogs a new way to listen.
When we teach our dogs to understand verbal cues, we can begin to tell them how we want them to act in different situations. This eliminates the need to force them to behave. I have also found that when humans think about teaching their dog ESL, it forces us to spend more time focusing on how the dogs are learning and interpreting our actions. As a result, we automatically become more empathetic and more understanding.
How Do We Teach ESL to Dogs to Help With Stress?
Learn to Listen to Your Dog’s Body Language
The first step to teaching your dog ESL, to start opening lines of communication with your dog, is by reading dog body language; learning basic dog body language helps us understand how our dogs are reacting to our training. We can begin to see if the dog is perceiving the training session as rewarding or stressful. We can also begin to identify if there are things going on during training that are scaring the dog, making it hard for them to listen and learn.
Unfortunately, most humans have very little knowledge of what their dog is trying to say to them. If your dog will not do a behavior when at the park, but Is perfect at home, consider a few things. The dog could be too distracted and can’t think since there is so much going on. The dog may also be shy or afraid at the park, which is creating too much stress to perform the behavior. When a dog is afraid, humans often notice the bark or growl first (verbal) but before the bark or growl, the dog was very likely screaming, “ I am scared,” but he was using body language to express it.
In Chapter 5, we will go over how to read dogs’ body language in greater detail, but being able to “listen” to what your dog is telling you is very important. Understanding if your dog is stressed, fearful, relaxed, or excited is key when teaching ESL. As mentioned above, if a dog is so scared that he is over threshold, no learning can take place, and the trainer may put herself and the dog in danger.
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