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The Heart of Communicating with Your Dog 2: Understanding the Power of Our Tones

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Today I thought we might talk about something that can truly make a difference in our interactions with our doggos.

The power of using your different tones correctly.

Most dogs are super perceptive, and when you make sure that you’re using the right tones at the right times you can have a real impact on their behaviour. So, let's explore the various tones that we might need and how they influence our dogs as we train them and as we live our lives in general.

The Calm, Soothing Tone

A long haired German shepherd dog
Winnie the GSD holds her drop easily so only needs soft praise to help reinforce the command

Think about those moments when you want your dog to remain calm or hold a specific position. A sit or drop stay, or maybe remaining on their mat.

Or those times when you really need them to be calm in their behaviour - keeping their feet on the ground or refraining from grabbing something to run around with.

Have you ever noticed that if you're anxious or restless, your dog will mirror that behaviour? Or if you get excited then they too get revved up?

That's where your calm, soothing tone really needs to come into play. If you can try to make sure that you remain relaxed and use a calm, composed tone, you're more likely to help them remain calm and relaxed.

You’re more likely to get the calm behaviour you're looking for.

So for example:

Let's say you're about to take your dog for a walk, and they're all excited and jumping around. Instead of using an enthusiastic tone – avoid revving them up with “time for walkies!” - try staying super calm with them. This way you can reward calmness with a walk instead of rewarding overexcitement.

Similarly, when your dog is working on a command like holding a drop or staying on their mat, use a calm voice to avoid overexcitement that will distract them or rev them up. If you get too excited - because they are succeeding - you’ll probably cause the mistake that you want to avoid.

The Happy, Excited Tone

A schnauzer running
A happy excited tone helps Zander want to recall all the way in

This is a tone that a lot of dog owners default to when they get home and they are happy to see their dog, but they don't realise that they are causing the jumping or other overstimulated behaviours. Their dogs can't help but react to their excitement with excitement of their own. It's ok to be happy to see your dog but you might just need to tone it down and be intimate rather than overtly excited.

So where should we be using this tone?

Think about times when we want to express our joy in their success and make sure that we are rewarding them for a job well done. The happy, excited tone is essential during such moments. Use this tone when your dog has successfully completed a command - but not during - and you want to reward them. I'd also use it for times when I want action or motion from my dog.

For example:

I’ll say “free” to release my dogs from staying on their mat and I’ll use my most excited voice to say it. Free equals freedom and they are finished, so they can go do anything they like now. I'm rewarding them and they know it.

I’ll also use this tone when I want them to come back to me. When teaching recall, I suggest you use your excited tone to let your dog know that coming to you is an enjoyable experience and that they are not in any trouble.

Motivating and stimulating is the purpose of this awesome tone, so avoid using it during stationary exercises, or times when they just need to be calm.

The Warning Tone

Two dogs wait at the door
In this shot Ollie the Spoodle gets a warning tone to help him hold his newly learned door boundary

This one is long and low. Think about how your Mum used to say your name when you were little and you were getting up to something. It’s designed to warn your dog off from reacting to something or someone that’s approaching them. Or to warn them off from them continuing along towards behaviour that you’ve seen them do in the past that they are considering doing again just now.

For instance:

Imagine your dog is about to grab your shoe. They’ve done it before. You can see them approaching your shoe and getting ready for the grab. Use the warning tone - a long, low tone that signals your dog to halt in their tracks. You're watching and ready for them. This tone tries to serve as a deterrent, urging them to reconsider their actions.

It precedes a no and can vary from a low warning to a strong warning, depending on what they are doing or how many times you might already have addressed this issue.

Similarly, imagine if your dog is getting excited about a guest arriving but you’ve asked them to stay on their mat or wait outside. Use the warning tone to remind them to stay put no matter what happens with the guest coming in or how excited they might feel.

And make sure you avoid using their name in the warning tone, as it will undermine your recall.

The Cross Tone

a border collie sits on the kitchen bench
Zak's Mum needed a firm no here, but she did not linger on the negative nor hold a grudge

Let's face it; dogs make mistakes, just like we do. The cross tone is reserved for those moments when the deed is done, and there's no going back. That moment when they jump up, grab an item they should not have or start barking.

It's the firm "NO" tone that indicates the mistake has been made so the dog understands which behaviour is incorrect. Your timing here is important.

While delivering your no, and a consequence, stay cool, calm and collected. And remember not to hold a grudge. Afterwards, switch straight back to your pleasant or warning tone, depending on their current behaviour.

And at all costs, avoid using their name in a cross or negative tone, as it will undermine your recall.

A Deliberate Approach to Tone

Now that we've explored the different tones, take a moment to reflect on your interactions with your dog. Are you using tones deliberately, or is it something that could use a little more attention?

Being aware of the tones we use allows us to communicate more effectively with our dogs. When we approach our training, and life in general, with a mix of calmness, excitement, and warnings we create clear messages for our dogs. They learn to trust our cues and understand our intentions, making life more enjoyable for both parties.

So, let's make a conscious effort to use the power of tones to bring out the best in our dogs so that we’ll want to include them more, take them to more places, and enjoy life with them.

About A New Leash on Life Dog Training

a lady with three dogs
Zander, Keryn, Jaffa & Miki

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training if you choose to train with me, we will be using positive reinforcement and rewards, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.

So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.

What do you believe in?


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