Effective communication with your puppy lays the groundwork for a long, rewarding relationship, so you have to start early. Because your puppy will never speak or even completely understand your language, you have to adapt to his style of communication. By doing so, you put things into terms he can understand, making it easier to teach him the house rules.
Tempting as it may be to baby your puppy, don't turn into a softie -- this gives your pup the wrong idea. When you communicate with your puppy, do it with confidence and objectivity. Treat him like a dog, not a baby, and develop a no-nonsense style of speaking from the get-go. This doesn't mean you have to withhold love or cuddles, though -- when you communicate, just make sure that you have a "tough but fair" attitude and style of speaking. This way your puppy always knows who is boss.
Learn His Language
Puppies and dogs speak using their body language, and if you want to effectively communicate with your pup, you need to speak that language, too. Pay attention to his posture, behavior and facial expressions to determine his mood, and you'll have an easier time responding appropriately. His varying tail wags, for example, show you what he is feeling -- a high, stiff, rigidly-wagging tail may indicate aggression, while a relaxed, gently swaying tail indicates happiness. These differences make effective communication much simpler.
Choose Your Words
Communicating with your puppy is important because the training he receives now can stay with him for a lifetime. You'll never teach him Shakespeare, but he'll understand the meaning of a few select words -- it's just up to you to select them. Choose your words carefully and stick with them, rather than trying to build up his vocabulary with confusing synonyms. Instead of using "good," "great," "amazing," "super" and more to express approval, choose a short and simple word like "good" and make that your catchall term.
Your puppy needs consistency to learn, so when you're communicating, always respond to the same behavior in the same way. This goes for both verbal and non-verbal communication alike. For example, when your puppy nips at your hand during play, make an exaggeratedly pained yelping noise and withdraw your hand. If he does it again, leave the room for a minute or two. You're communicating to him that biting has negative consequences, but the message only goes through if you repeat it every single time.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.