Listen up! Be engaging if you want your canine patients to hear you

It's not just what you say, it's how you say it.
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Mar 09, 2012
By dvm360.com staff

Ever tried to get a dog to do something, only to be frustrated after multiple failed attempts? Well, a recent study suggests that we try a different approach—treat them as we would a young child.

Training a dog—or even just getting a dog to obey a single, simple command in an exam room—is no easy feat. Patience and positive reinforcement is key, much like the approach one uses when teaching young children how to perform simple tasks. Both respond to the tone in our voice and our mannerisms when we’re communicating. It should come as no surprise that dogs are sensitive to these social cues, such as verbal addressing and eye contact, but this study confirmed it with the use of new eye-tracking technology.

In the study, conducted by researchers with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, dogs were shown a person turning toward one of two identical objects. In one case, the person looked directly at the dog and used an engaging voice while turning toward one object, and in another, the person performed the same task while speaking in a low voice and avoiding eye contact. The dogs’ reactions and eye movements were tracked, and results showed that the dogs followed the gaze of the person who used positive communication cues when speaking to them. Researchers also concluded that based on these findings, dogs’ reactions to human communication and social cues resembled that of young children, specifically in the age range of 6 months to 2 years old.

It’s likely that as a veterinary professional, you’re already aware of how dogs respond to our way of speaking, as well as our actions. And chances are, you’re already accustomed to using an engaging voice and making eye contact when communicating with your four-legged friends. But it’s interesting to consider the similarities they share with your two-legged ones, isn’t it? Now who’s a good boy?!