The Best Dog Training Tool - Is Free!
When I first began training dogs and learning about training methods, it was very common to hear things like "say as little as possible", "don't use words, use your energy" and "the more you say, the more confused the dog will be". There was a time when I even followed this (misguided) advice. And let me tell you from experience....it ain't workin!
The notion that words (aka COMMUNICATION) do not belong in dog training is a popular and prevalent one. But when you actually think about it, it makes no sense! Communication is the cornerstone of dog training. Everything we do in dog training is about teaching the dog the meaning of words so that we can better communicate with him. That's why the absolute best dog training tool you have is YOUR VOICE.
Often times, I find that dogs are getting very little constructive feedback from their owners. What is constructive feedback? It is feedback that tells the dog if what he is doing is right or wrong. Think of it like the kind of feedback you would give when playing the Hot and Cold game with a child.
“You’re getting warmer, a little warmer, even warmer…oh no colder! COLD! Ah warm again, waaaarrrrrmmm…HOT HOT HOT!”
Or with a dog it may sound like this: “Good dog, yes that’s a good boy, goooood….Uh-UH-uhuh noooo WATCH ME, good dog, GOOD BOY! YES! (and treat).”
This is immediate, in-the-moment, binary feedback (to quote my hero Dr. Ian Dunbar) that allows the dog to course correct before they get too far off track. It gives you VERBAL CONTROL over your dog. In the example above, perhaps the handler is wanting to teach the dog to maintain eye contact. Verbal praise (positive feedback) is used while the dog holds eye contact, and when the dog starts to break eye contact, the handler can immediately signal to the dog that this is unwanted behavior (negative feedback). Furthermore, we can not only tell the dog what we don’t want him to do…we can tell him what we DO want him to do (instructive reprimand) – “uh-uh NO WATCH ME.” Most of the time, when I see people reprimanding the dog, there is no follow up instruction telling the dog what they should be doing instead. Instructive reprimands clear up so much confusion, and are the only non-aversive way of punishing a dog.
Another benefit to using your voice in this way is that it maintains a connection between you and the dog. A silent owner is easily ignored. But an owner that is giving constructive feedback – now that’s something to pay attention to! Don’t believe me?? Go try a little experiment right now. Put your dog on leash and go for a walk. Your goal is to keep the dog walking on a loose leash next to you. Say nothing for the first five minutes. How well does your dog do? Now for the next five minutes, give your dog an ongoing commentary of constructive feedback. You tell me – which method worked better? Bet I can guess your answer… :D
Christine Fasan is the head trainer and canine behavioristat K9H. She specializes in German Shepherd Dogs and healing reactivity in dogs of all breeds. K9 Holistics offers dog training and behavior modification in St. Petersburg and throughout Pinellas County. We also offer pet care services including dog walking and pet sitting. Please contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org.