Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

What is a Shared Language?


A Shared Language is a language that both you and your dog understand, that you can use to communicate effectively together!

A dog is a dog, derived from the wolf and pariah dog world. It is not a human. Dogs have a different culture, language and perspective to our human world – a world that is very different to the drivers and motivations of their nature-based world. We shouldn’t force our dogs to be human, but instead assist them to live in our human world and be a dog. We have asked them to live in this human world, so it is our responsibility to help them do that! 

Creating a Shared Language understood by both our dogs and us helps us guide our dogs with confidence, giving them a sense of order, place and trust, and allowing us to ensure they are safe in this complex human world. Dogs are the best species at reading human language and postures, however we are not always saying what we think we are saying to our dogs!

Most dog lovers don’t want to control or dominate their dog. They want their dog to be able to express their own nature and personality while still behaving responsibly in our human world. Creating a Shared Language allows us to do that and acknowledge and honour dogs for who they are.

Why is creating a Shared Language important?

This human world isn’t that obvious to our dogs, our requirements are different from some of their natural inclinations. There are many risks in the human world that dogs can’t begin to understand – cars are dangerous, aggression is largely inappropriate, killing stock and cats is unacceptable – and all these come with death penalties to the dog and legal repercussions to the owners. 80% of veterinary euthanasia in the first 3 years of life is due to behaviour problems (according to the USVA).

Dogs love to know their place in the world, and to have structure and consistency. Having a Shared Language is critical to articulate what it is we want from our dog (as their loving Mentor), and how we will keep them safe. It allows us to grow a harmonious relationship that is based on consistency and clarity.   

How do we establish a Shared Language?

There are four aspects in Dog Zen critical to creating our Shared Language. They are:

  • Joining Up – establishing a trusting relationship and bond with our dog. Your dog looks to you as their mentor for guidance. Joining Up establishes the ancient following response and these basic behaviours trigger latent co-operative and social tendencies in your dog which are switched on with this formative process. My Joining Up training techniques show you how to do this.
  • Your role as a Mentor – your role as your dog’s Mentor is so important, and it’s essential that you fulfil that role consistently and confidently. You are the Mentor of the pack, guiding and shaping your dog’s understanding of the language of the pack
  • Basic Commands – establishing the basic command and cue words with your dog
  • Understanding your dog’s language – what they are communicating to us with their posture, actions and vocalisations and what we are (sometimes inadvertently) communicating back to them
  • Clicker – my primary tool to create a Shared Language is the clicker, a signal that lets your   dog know exactly what you want it to do. It also switches your dog into a Learning State and accurately marks the correct behaviour. Learn about using a clicker here

How good is your Shared Language?

Let’s see how your Shared Language is at present. We often use recall as a means of testing how established your Shared Language is as it’s one of the most challenging commands to achieve (particularly in busy, stimulating environments). 

  • Good (your dog is directly in your control in all situations; has good recall in stimulating environments e.g. at the beach or dog park)
  • Medium (good basic obedience; good recall in less stimulating environments such as your backyard or occasionally while out and about)
  • Poor (generally out of control behaviour; no recall)

If you wish to create a strong Shared Language with your dog, you might like to get my book, Dog Zen. It covers how to create a language that both you and your dog understand so that you can easily communicate to your dog what you want from her, and it teaches you how to then use this Shared Language to totally transform your dog.

For video guidance, join my Virtual Dog School, where I personally teach you how to build and use a Shared Language to transform your relationship with your dog.

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