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

What is a Shared Language?

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 to ensure they are safe in this complex human world.

Most dog lovers don’t want to control or dominate their dog. They want their dog to be able to express their own nature/personality and know that they will be safe and behave responsibly in a human world. Creating a Shared Language allows us to do that and acknowledge and honour dogs for whom 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 is due to behavior problems.  

Dogs love to know their place in the world, and to have structure and consistency. Hierarchy, or their role, is important to them, so if they see us as the “mentoring leader”, then they will seek guidance from us. Having a Shared Language is critical to articulate what it is we want, and how we will keep them safe. It allows us to grow a harmonious relationship that is based on consistency and clarity.   

Wolf packs are family packs so it is important to understand in Dog Zen when we say dominance we mean as if a father/mother/older sibling relationship. We don’t mean dominance in the way expressed in the leader of the pack constructs which were derived from early wolf research in zoos. These were made up of packs of non-related members (not seen in the wild) and hence were more aggressive toward each other. In Dog Zen we talk about the mentoring role in the pack – knowing order and differing roles still play a part.  

How Do We Establish a Shared Language?

There are 4 aspects in Dog Zen critical to creating our Shared Language. They are:

  • Joining Up – establishing a trusting relationship with our dog. Your dog looks to you as their mentor for guidance. Joining up establishes the ancient following response and these basic behaviors trigger latent co-operative and social tendencies in your dog which are switched on with this formative process.
  • Your Role as a Mentor – outlines how important your role is and how you best fulfil that role consistently and confidently. You are the Mentor of the pack, guiding and shaping their understanding of the language of the pack, and the language you use
  • Basic Commands – establishing the basic command and cue words with your dog
  • Understanding our dog’s language – what they are communicating to use and what we are communicating 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 behavior

Over the next few blogs we’ll explore these aspects to support building 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).  

How Good is Your Shared Language?
Good (your dog is directly in your control in all situations; has good recall in stimulating environments e.g. dog park) Medium (good basic obedience; good recall in less stimulating environments e.g. your backyard) Poor (generally out of control behaviour; no recall)

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