My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

The Power of Praise


Praising a dog can be a powerful tool or wasted effort. The results are up to you. You have more power and influence in your voice than you might realize, and not just when you tell your dog to do something. The tone and rhythm of your voice can have a huge impact, which, when you understand it, can greatly enhance your communication with your dog, improving both her response to commands and your overall relationship.

Your voice conveys energy and, as a social mammal, your dog is likely to respond according to the energy you communicate. As an example of another social mammal’s response to sound, think of how people tell a horse to slow down—a long, low “Whoa.” Then, when they want the horse to speed up, they often make fast, high-pitched, repetitive clicking sounds. Dogs respond similarly to such sounds, In fact, as I typed, I said “Whoa,” and one of my dogs cocked an ear in my direction, but otherwise no one moved. Then I clicked my tongue a few times, and all the dogs immediately raised their heads with an eager look. The one sound is calming, the other exciting.

So how do you use this to your advantage? If you let your praise match the situation, you are far more likely to get the response you’re looking for. For example, if you want to praise your dog for sitting or downing, times when you want your dog to be still, use a relatively low, drawn out Gooood Doooog. Be warm and sincere, but don’t put a lot of excitement or energy into your voice. This way your dog is more likely to remain in position.

By contrast, when you call your dog and want her to come running, or when she’s sniffing something icky and you tell her to “Leave It,” follow up with a higher-pitched, faster “Good Dog, Good Dog, Good Dog!!!” If your praise sounds excited and eager, your dog will pick up on that and will be more likely to speed up and rocket toward you with enthusiasm and joy.

So, when you want to praise your dog, think about what you want her energy to be like—calm and quiet or fast-moving and eager? Match the energy of your praise to the energy you’d like from your dog, and watch how it helps your dog understand what you want from her.

by Melissa Fischer,

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