Dogs are not big on verbal communication. Whatever you may think your dog understands very little of what you say. When my wife comes home to find her golden retriever has dug up the new plants she scolds him and he leaves the room sulking.
“Why are you wasting your breath on him?” I ask knowing that Max has difficulty remembering what he did ten seconds ago.
“He knows what I’m talking about,” she says wagging her finger at him. But Max doesn’t have the slightest idea. She could be swearing the Oath of Allegiance for all he cares. Max simply reads her body language, a skill in which all dogs excel.
If you want to put this to the test next time your dog misbehaves gesticulate in an irritated manner and shout, “Umpty Dumpty.” You will see your dog cower just as if you had scolded him.
It must be stressed however that dogs are not easily fooled. Their ability to read your genuine mood is uncanny and feigning annoyance is a waste of time. Pretending to be firm and resolute just won’t work. Somewhere in your dog’s make up is a built in polygraph that’s impossible to beat. It’s been handed down from his ancestors and honed by thousands of years of sharp-eyed observation.
It’s no good preaching one thing but practicing something else, it won’t wash. If you determine that your dog cannot go upstairs, he’ll know if you mean it or not. Older dogs can read your intentions before you know them yourself. Set out the rules, keep them simple and be consistent at all times. Your dog will respect you for it.