Dog’s Eye View: What did you say?
July 16, 2015
In the initial training of the cue "name recognition," we begin by offering a treat each time the puppy turns to look in the direction that word came from. (Be sure to stand close to your puppy to begin this lesson). After several successful attempts, we increase the distance between us and the puppy so it takes longer for the pup to be rewarded for turning to the sound of his name.
Many things can become a distraction in that several feet or yards between us saying the cue and puppy coming in to receive the treat. This is where pairing the delivery of the treat (reinforcement) with happy words can help to strengthen verbal praise. After all, human words don't mean much to a new puppy. And all that heavy petting? Most dogs find that type of touch unnatural. Touching and petting are what humans like and do to other humans. Dog's — not so much. Dogs respond quickly to food reinforcers, so by providing that "goodie" while praising and petting, you are helping the dog learn to connect the dots.
Because dog training is a skill to be built over time and practice, the fundamentals of training serve to become our guidelines. So, start training the puppy using special treats along with copious amounts of verbal praise to set the stage for life in the classroom.
Without building that connection from the very first day of the new relationship, we lose out on important communication signals. It takes time and work for name recognition to become more important than playing with another dog or sniffing trees. Without creating a connection between answering our call by means of tons of positive associations, the dog will not reliably come when called. A good trainer will set up training to "trump" the environment. But that training must take place many times before being tested in the field.
OK, but he should just do what I tell him because I'm the human and he's the dog. In the arrogance associated with perceiving ourselves as the higher life form, we seem to think that all God's other creatures should defer to us as a higher authority. Not so. We are the dog's companion and guardian, and our role is to keep him safe and out of trouble in our human society. Making assumptions of automatic respect from a dog can definitely get us into trouble. If we are to create an environment of learning and trust between us and our canine companions, it's up to us as the "higher life form" to learn and understand dog behavior and language. This knowledge will serve to deepen our respect for dogs and communicate our understanding back to them. There are many resources out there to aid in learning the language of dogs.
Thanks to technology, we now have the ability to watch dogs at play, slow down the video and see more of what they are saying to each other. There are great books detailing the common body language of canines. All this helps us to be better at understanding and communicating back. Most people are already doing that to some degree. How about when your dog comes and stands in front of you and just looks at you, and you say something like, "Do you need to go outside?" Then he runs to the door. Yep, he spoke and you listened!
One day, while walking with my dog Skippy, she suddenly lowered her head and slowly turned back to me and began walking in the opposite direction. Her tail was tucked, and her ears were turned back. As we moved farther and farther away, her ears went forward, and her tail came back to terrier high. There had been bear sightings in that area, and two days later, from a greater distance, we saw that bear. Skippy spoke, and I listened. Had I not been in tune to her language, I could have "insisted" she keep moving in the direction I wanted to go. The outcome of ignoring what she was telling me might have spelled disaster.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.