Over the last few weeks I have learned a lot about animal psychology. The DVD I watched and book I have read confirmed to me what I have been teaching for years. Dogs will respond to your body language before your words.
Many times through the years my students have said to me “I said Tunnel, why did he take the dog walk?!!”. My answer is that probably your body language was yelling “DOG WALK”. When we practise agility we need to take special care that we accurately rehearse our body language. We also need to understand what your dog takes the most notice of in that body language. e.g. Many little dogs follow their person’s feet. No matter what system you use while running your team-mate you need to present consistent body language for the action you require. You must also follow through to ensure that your dog responds appropriately each time in order to maintain the strength of that command.
According to the information I have been reading recently dogs are amazingly responsive to very minute, very quick body language messages. Dogs depend largely on body language to communicate amongst themselves. While they do vocalise it is by far the least form of communication used by canines. We on the other hand depend on vocal communication combined with body language.
So do verbal commands work. Yes they do when presented with appropriate body language. Verbals will strengthen your body language. But in most cases if you present conflicting verbal commands and body language your dog will go for your body language.
So what does this teach us. It is very important to have someone who knows what they are doing watch you periodically and give you feed back on your body language and positioning. Video your runs if you need. If mistakes happen, always assess your body position and movement to see if in someway you caused the error. Don’t assume you dog is being bad. Most of the time (but not all the time) it is a human miscommunication. Don’t let your dog rehearse incorrect responses to your commands as this will weaken that particular command. Practise your agility body language so that the right movements are second nature.