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Watch Your Mouth! Part Two

Once we’ve established what our verbal and/or physical cues for behaviour are, we then need to be aware of how many times we’re saying them.

This is something my team and I cover in our puppy courses as this is a fundamental part of good dog training, and its very much our responsibility and not our dogs.

The thing is we’re a verbally communicative species and some more than others of us (myself included!), like to chatter. Which is fine if we’re on the the phone to a friend, but less helpful when we’re training our dogs.

First off when we’re training our dogs a new skill – we like to say what’s happening as it unfolds in front of us don’t we..

“Good doggie, now what have I got, mmm yes it’s yummy isn’t it, Sit, come on now, Sit, yes almost, Sit, Sit, yay, good dog, what a clever dog” etc. etc. 😉

To our faithful companions, it’s a lot of verbal nonsense which detracts from whatever it is they’re trying to learn.

That’s where clicker training can be so useful – pairing the sound of a children’s toy clicker with something delicious, and only using that when the dog does something we like. Much easier than trying to extract useful information from your chatterbox human!

After all, how many times in an average day do you tell your dog that they’re a “Good Dog!”? It becomes meaningless in a training sense because our dogs hear it all the time.

Jan 2010 47
Puppy Diva learning her “Down” cue – such a serious worker 🙂

Secondly, once our dogs have learned a new skill and we’ve named it with a verbal or physical cue – we quite say it more than once..

“Sit. Come on now, Sit! Sit-Down! Sit! Will you Sit! SIT!”

The scenario above quiet often comes about because we didn’t have our dogs full attention to begin with, so teaching a good name response before anything else is essential.

And something I often pull people’s legs about in class is how the volume of the cue increases, despite our dogs hearing ability being far superior to our own! 😀

Otherwise you end up with a dog who believes their ‘Sit’ cue is ‘Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit, SIT!’ – which is problematic when the owner believes the cue is ‘Sit’. When I meet dogs for the first time I explain to their owners, I let the dog tell me what they know – they’re innocently honest about it, admittedly sometimes to the embarrassment of their owners 😀

KCGC classes March 2012 4
Practicing “Sit” in the classroom environment

To produce great behaviour from our dogs we need to:

  1. Be clear about what we want from our dogs
  2. Reward what we want
  3. Name behaviours once the dog is reliably offering them
  4. Be clear about how many cues are required before the dog should respond
  5. Keep our ears open to what comes out of our mouths when training – and if in doubt, ask the dog what they understand!

Dog training should be light-hearted and FUN for both dogs and their owners. If you are struggling with a dog training dilemma, do pop a note in the comments below as I’d love to help you solve it!

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