Dog’s Eye View: Keep training commands simple and to the point
February 23, 2018
As a dog trainer and teacher of new dog owners, the topic of clarity in communication comes up frequently. It's like a conversation between you and your dog. A few of the tenets of training/teaching a dog are, consistency of verbal and hand cues, being more observant of our dog's behavior and staying focused during the process.
A scenario that is often played out in class looks like this: The owner asks their dog to sit using a variety of hand cues in sequence along with several different verbal cues. Their dog may look bewildered and sometimes respond by sitting and sometimes not.
In the middle of this sequence, the owner may look away and say something to the person next to her. In the meantime their dog has gotten up and has tried to sniff noses with the dog in the adjacent cubby. This is all just new trainer behavior and honestly, everyone will soon begin to become more polished in a short span of time.
When the teachers step in to sort things out, to the owner it may seem like magic. Suddenly their dog is looking at the experienced teacher at the other end of the leash and miraculously sits on cue. It's not magic and it's not a miracle. I sometimes think to myself that the dog is thinking, "Finally, this is a conversation that makes sense."
When we wonder why our dog's behavioral response to our cues seems erratic, it may be time to focus on our own skills before we blame the dog or label him as stubborn, or not too smart.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who keeps looking at their cellphone or is looking around and not staying engaged with you? Yikes. There's not much in the way of two way communication going on. It's just a scramble of words and sentences.
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I confess that my mind often shoots off in different directions when I'm talking about something. I get reminded by my friends to stay on topic. It's like the topic is a river but I find too many tributaries that need to be explored along the way. I need to take a breath, slow down and refocus.
One of the tenets mentioned in the first paragraph is being more observant of our dog's behavior. I don't mean the simple stuff like he's lying down or barking. Dogs communicate mostly with their whole body. The nuances of eye contact, yawning, scratching behind his ear and lip licking happen in a fraction of a second.
If we look away, we might miss something he just said. Yawning and lip licking can be his way of saying, "I'm a little worried." Or "That other dog is staring at me and I'm thinking he might jump at me."
Sometimes when we're working on a specific behavior such as walking on a loose leash, our dog might suddenly sit and start scratching. He could be telling us that he needs to take a break from the intense learning at the moment.
What a relief our good buddy must feel when we stay engaged with him and enjoy a conversation by speaking clearly with consistent hand cues and fewer words spoken. Keep it simple and to the point.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than thirty years of experience.