IT ALL COMES DOWN TO FINE TONES! By Clarissa v. Reinhardt

When it comes to loudness and the language used, many dog training venues seem more like military training squares. But, Clarissa von Reinhardt explains that a lot can be learnt from the way dogs interact with each other, and presents tips and tricks to help you communicate in a poised and relaxed way with your dog.



Basically, communication between dogs consists of a number of mutually complementary elements. In addition to the vocal aspect (i.e. the voice) there are also other forms of communication (see the box on this page). The vocal aspect, however, plays a significantly lesser role in communication between dogs than it does in humans, who use it very often. When it is used between dogs, some very clear characteristics become apparent:

  • HIGH TONES directed at the other dog mean positive orientation. For example, puppies yelp when they feel lonely or unwell and need affection, food or closeness. An older dog reacts to this and looks after them. Adult dogs meeting and greeting each other in a friendly way use high, mostly long drawn-out whines and whimpering, signaling to the other that proximity is desired.
  • DEEP TONES directed at the other mean negative orientation. For example, through growling and snarling, two dogs encountering each other let each other know that proximity is not wished for and that the other should stay away.
  • QUIET TONES create concentrated attentiveness. Dogs and their predecessors, the wolves, become very quiet and concentrated in two situations - when prey or enemies are nearby. For this reason, dogs react attentively when you whisper to them "What is it? Can you hear something?". The dog's ears immediately perk up and he looks mesmerised - the quiet voice creates this total attentiveness.



Basically, communication for dogs consists of a number of mutually complementary elements.

  • Apart from the vocal (i.e. the voice) element there is also
  • Communication through body language and eye contact (see Calming Signals)
  • So-called tactile communication through physical contact and
  • Communication through scent. For example, the smells of other animals and objects or also the markings of other dogs contain a variety of information that is sensed by the dog (see Reading the Newspaper).



For daily life and training with dogs this means that we must use a higher, friendly voice when we want the dog to do something, or motivate him to do something. If he does something we don't want him to, we use a deeper voice. But don't overdo it! Many people immediately react loudly and much too strictly when their dog commits even the smallest of "misdemeanours". In general, a moderate "no" in a slightly deeper voice is more than enough to let the dog know that he shouldn't do something. Offer him an alternative straight away. Don't just tell him what he has done wrong, what he shouldn't do or what is forbidden, but also let him know what behaviour is allowed, i.e. what leads to praise and affection.



If your dog does something that calls for harsh words (such as "leave it!"), take the pressure out of your voice the moment he stops doing it. This is essential! If you carry on scolding and moaning at him after he has stopped doing the "bad thing", he will not understand when he does something right. If you have to use harsh words with your dog more often than a maximum of once a week, you should definitely reconsider your training concept, because something is not right and should be changed.


The golden rule is: the calmer you speak to your dog and the more poised you are around him, the more he will want to be near you and turn to you.


Think how you would react! Would you like to be around someone who constantly orders you around? By the way, depending on the breed, race and tone-pitch, dogs hear 4 to 20 times better than humans. On many dog training venues, you could swear you'd taken a wrong turn onto a military training ground. Every single command is shouted in a harsh tone, to make sure it has the desired effect. If that makes you feel slightly stressed, imagine how much more unbearable it must be for our dogs with their extremely fine sense of hearing!



And another thing! Take care not to constantly talk at your dog. How would you react if someone kept lecturing you? Wouldn't you eventually just switch off? If someone talks to you who is normally very quiet and reserved, you listen more attentively to what this person has to say. It is exactly the same with dogs. Less is more - which of course does not mean that you should hardly exchange a word with your dog. Commands should be spoken in a friendly way, because dogs learn through association. If you are always strict and hard when you give a command, the dog quickly associates being given a task with you being strict and hard. Ergo: tasks are not good because my owner isn't nice to me. This is no way to get the dog to work in a friendly - let alone trusting - way.


The vocal aspect plays a lesser role in communication between dogs than it does between humans. Nevertheless, moderating the voice plays a key role in dog-human relationships.



One final, important tip. If your dog is totally engrossed in something (such as digging or watching something far away), you need to speak louder to him. When great demands are placed on one of the senses, the functions of the others are reduced. At this precise moment, your dog does not hear as well as normal. That has nothing to do with disobedience but with the fact he is not aware that you just said something.


If you are working really hard on a project it could be you only react when a slightly raised voice says "can't you hear me? I just spoke to you…". If your dog's stuck with his nose in a hole, tell him in a louder, but still friendly, voice to move on.


Last but not least. Look long and hard at those people who advise you to be dominant and strict with your dog. In most cases you will see that they lack self-confidence and have an even greater lack of ability in dealing with dogs. As the Dalai Lama once said, it all comes down to the quiet, fine tones. I wish you and your new housemate many wonderful years together. Best (dog) regards, Clarissa von Reinhardt.


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