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Training a dog requires communicating what we want to the dog. What about the other way? How can we teach our dogs to communicate what they want to us?

I started thinking when I noticed that my dog could apply a signal for a difference purpose. For example, I've trained her so when she wants to cross in front of me during a walk, she looks up at me. She has generalized that so now she uses that signal (of looking up at me) to communicate, "I want to change the direction of our walk, OK?" For another example, I'm sure we've all had the experience of a dog bringing a toy to us as a way of saying "play with me!"

So how can we help them talk to us?
 

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Just my thoughts. Our dogs do 'talk' to us, more than most people realize. They use the same 'language' (primarily body language) that they use to communicate to their own kind, it is we, humans, who could do better to learn about what they are saying to us.
We can encourage them to keep 'talking' by rewarding them with an appropriate response to their request. For example: if they go and sit by the door to ask to go out, we let/take them out, they do their business - next time they need out they will go sit by the door. Or if they are telling us they are afraid - we do what we need to do to keep them safe and help them feel safe.
They learn incredibly quickly through trial and error - how to get our attention and 'ask' for our help, they may look (even stare) at us to get us to look at them, if that doesn't work, they may try a whine or bark or a touch us with nose to get us to look at them, then they will often look in the direction of whatever it is they want/need and can't access themselves - a ball on the counter, open the door, the container where the treats are kept.

My lab mix was a wonderful 'talker' - when it was close to dinner time (lest I forget) he would sit and whine just a bit (to get my attention) then he would look at me, then at the bin where the food is kept - dinner of course would follow shortly after. If he wanted up on the bed in the middle of the night, he would whine 'urgently', as if he really needed to go out, once I was out of bed and heading to the door, he would get up on the bed (relegating me to the couch for the rest of the night).


5 Ways Your Dog Asks For Help | The Dog People by Rover.com
 

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Training a dog requires communicating what we want to the dog. What about the other way? How can we teach our dogs to communicate what they want to us?
Rather than us teaching them how to communicate, I look at it more as them teaching us! And yes, it's important to pay attention in class lol!

How can we expect them to engage, or be engaged, with us if we don't extend that same courtesy to them?
 

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Besides listening more, as was touched on above, there a few ways to bridge more. There are speech buttons/boards, and a book out about animal sign language.

But for my dogs and I, one of the easiest ways to bridge is teaching them more human words and what they mean. Then, introducing the phrase, "What do you want/Show me" preceeding that.

An exchange like this in action:

Dog comes to.me and stares.
I ask, "Hi X. What do you want?"
Dog gets up and shows me: cookies, water, outside, etc.
Human responds as necessary.
 
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