Are you in the process of training your dog? Maybe conditioning new behaviors in a puppy or rescue dog, or maybe you are trying to correct an unwanted behavior. I believe our dogs learn by watching us or simply being with us, more than listening to us.
With your dog on a retractable leash walking down the road, a new scent is caught by your dogs keen sense of smell. So, it pulls off the path to get more information, and you quickly push the button to extend the leash so he can explore just for fun. This pattern continues for weeks or months until your dog is conditioned to pull hard to get to where he wants to go. Not until one day when his pull creates a searing pain in your shoulder do you yell and yank hard on his neck. Your dog is startled by this outburst of negative energy directed his way and turns away to avoid your hard face and scary sounds.
How about when calling your dog? Are your voice and body saying the same thing? What do you do if your coworker says “the boss is in a bad mood!” Might you stay away just to avoid conflict? Dogs are masters of avoidance if it keeps them safe. If your body is stiff and tense when your voice sounds sweet calling your dog, they may choose to sniff the ground as a way of avoiding conflict. If then you shut the door and grumble to yourself about how stubborn your dog is, your dog learns that avoidance works as the scary tension just went away. Your dog may ground sniff in the future as it just learned that this behavior worked. And, we know dogs learn to repeat any behavior that has a positive consequence. How many times has your pup jumped and then sat, in order to get your attention or a yummy treat? The dog is simply learning that jumping earns him good things.
Your dog is watching your body movements and listening to the sounds you make, as he did his mother, in order to obtain feedback on what works. Although dogs do learn many verbal spoken words that are repeated to them, they were born with skills to read body language.