23 Jul Dog Training Lingo You Need To know
Whether you’re brand new to the world of dogs, or have had dogs all your life and are looking to enhance your communication with them, there are a few concepts its really important for you to learn.
Ever been out and about and seen someone seemingly telepathically signal to their dog to lay down, come back etc? The communication appears seamless– no shouting or desperate bribery with treats. This is not because the person got lucky with a super obedient dog, and its not magic, its all part of good communication between dog and handler. We are constantly giving signals to our dogs whether intentionally or otherwise. Understanding the mechanics of this and how it relates to learning theory, will massively accelerate your dogs progress.
One of the first things families I work with like to teach their new puppy or rescue is ‘sit’. They lure the dog into the position and then time the ‘sit’ command with this behaviour. This word then, sit, is the cue for this behaviour. Cues can be verbal or physical, and I usually encourage people to use both signals when first training in order to give the dog the maximum chance of picking up on a cue. In fact, dogs pay far more attention to our body language than they do to our vocabulary so next time you’re training ask yourself, what is my body signalling? Am I being consistent?
Cues are anything we use to signal to a dog that a behaviour is expected. However, dogs aren’t born knowing what our cues mean! It takes tons of repetitions using positive reinforcement to associate a new behaviour with a cue. Shouting HEEL at a dog whilst yanking it backwards will never teach the dog to stay by your side! In fact, the only thing you may achieve here is teaching the dog that ‘heel’ means pain is coming. Our job as good handlers and leaders is to stay consistent and patient whilst our dogs learn these cues. But, how do our dogs learn when they have responded to the cue correctly? This is where our all important markers come in!
A marker is a word or signal that tells your dog whether they are doing something correctly or not.
Every trainer/ dog owner will use a range of different markers but most importantly, every dog needs a clear positive marker and a clear negative– usually ‘yes’ ,‘good’ or clicker and ‘no’.
To teach a positive marker, simply start with some treats in a low distraction environment. Use your positive marker and then follow immediately with a food reward. Repeat this process many time and incorporate first asking for behaviours or marking behaviours the dog is doing that you like the look of.
Most dogs will quite easily pick up on ‘no’ naturally due to the associated tone and body language used, however there is a more specific way we can teach this if not.
Hold a treat flat out in your hand, when your dog lunges forwards to take it say ‘no’ and close your hand. Wait until the dog stops mouthing around your hand and repeat the exercise. When the dog offers alternative behaviours (gives distance, space, eye contact you can mark a yes and give the treat).
Say no with conviction– there is no need to shout but the tone needs to be noticeably firm and distinct from your usual!
In time as the dog picks up on this exercise you can leave your hand open longer and closer to the dog, and eventually start putting the food on the floor and finally even mimic actually dropping it!
TOP TIP: Build this behaviour using a low quality food reward (their normal dog food, some carrot etc) then gradually work up to using chicken/ turkey/ fish!
TOP TIP 2: If you’re really struggling, attach a lead and harness to the dog for this exercise to avoid them accidentally ‘winning’ the treat.
Time and time again I am called into a home to help with a particularly ‘stubborn’ or ‘head strong’ dog. More often than not, this dog is simply confused and lacking in consistency. It is so important that everyone living with the dog and training is on board with using the same cues and markers. Sit down tonight with the people you co-own your dog with and really ask yourselves, are we communicating as clearly as we possibly can to our dog? Are we advocating for him and doing all we can to enhance his understanding?