Because speaking dog is hard on the voice
Your dog is going to have to learn English, or Spanish, or German, or…you get the idea. Training your dog involves teaching her a wide spectrum of behaviors. There will be some behaviors you’ll expect her to do all the time, without being told; for example, not eliminating in the house. For others, you will give a specific command; like ‘sit’.
We already know about communicating with our dog, and how important timing and accuracy are to successful training. The third leg of a successful training plan is establishing some sort of dialog between the animal and the trainer. Yes, really. So we’re not talking about the weather or the nature of the soul, but there has to be a two-way communication system or we will never have a trained animal. With this system in place, there’s no limit to what you can teach your pet. But just like learning a new language it takes a little time, and patience for you both to understand it.
Since you are the trainer, the burden falls upon you to be absolutely clear and precise in defining and applying the ‘words’ that you use. You are going to teach your dog useful commands, and you are going to carefully observe her reactions and body language to understand what she is telling you.
A command by any other name
Animal Training Glossary: Command. Tells the animal to perform a specific behavior. Also known as a cue, or signal.
Animal Training Glossary: Trained behavior. A behavior the animal performs on command, as opposed to doing it whenever she feels like it. The training process is the means whereby the trainer pairs the command with the desired behavior. An animal is trained when she reliably performs the behavior on the command.
If you say the word ‘down’ randomly in a sentence, and your dog coincidentally lies down, you have not ‘trained’ her.
Consistency – it’s not about texture
Ah consistency in animal training! It is one of the easiest mistakes for a trainer (yes, you!) to make. If you are inconsistent in your training, you will not be successful in your training. Let me give you a few examples:
Owner: “Sit, Jesse. Sit. Jesse, come on, sit, now! JESSE, SIT!”
Dog: “Which one of those did you mean? Do you want me to sit on the first command or the third? Does that fourth one count then? And why are you yelling at me?”
Poor Jesse has no idea what he’s supposed to do. Repeating a command only confuses the dog.
Dog jumps on couch.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!”
Dog jumps up on visitors.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!”
Dog is just standing there.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!”
Dog: “Does that word mean get off the couch, don’t put my paws on people, or lie down?”
One command = One behavior. Jesse has no clue what his owner wants when he says ‘down.’ To Jesse, it’s a nonsense word, just like most of the blah-blah that comes out of his owner’s mouth.
Dog jumps up on couch.
Owner: “Come on over here and cuddle!”
Dog: “Cool, comfy couch time!”
Owner sitting on couch watching the big game.
Dog: “Cuddle time!” And jumps up.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!” And pushes Jesse away.
Poor Jesse’s not having an easy time understanding his Owner. He knows ‘sit’ means to plant his butt, but his Owner says it so fast and so many times, he’s not sure when he’s supposed to ‘sit’ or if his Owner really means it or not. He has no idea what ‘down’ means, but his owner is usually angry and yells it. Jesse’s not sure if it’s something he’s doing, or if his Owner is just upset because the cat walked by. What really confuses Jesse is the couch, sometimes he can lie on it, but other times, it makes his owner really mad when he jumps up.
Is anyone out there Jesse’s Owner? Consistency is hard! I know, believe me. I’ve done this professionally for years, and I still catch myself saying ‘sit’ a couple times in row. Then I kick myself, and start over. I’ve been Jesse’s Owner! The trick is to catch yourself at it, and practice. You’ll get there!
Consistency affects multiple aspects of training
You must be consistent is all facets of your training, and not just you, but every member of your family must train the same way.
Decide what behaviors you want to train. I suggest a minimum of Sit, Down, Come and Stay.
Decide what word you’re going to use as the command and stick to it. Try to avoid using the word when your dog is paying attention to you if you are not actively trying to get him to do the behavior.
Decide ahead of time what behaviors you’ll allow, and what you won’t. If you’re okay with your bull mastiff jumping up and putting her paws on your shoulders to give you big, slobbery kisses, then cool! But don’t yell at her when she does it to you when you’re wearing a silk suit. She can’t tell the difference between raw silk and cotton from Target. Same thing for furniture; it’s either okay, or it’s not.
Are you consistent in your training? Who else out there is Jesse’s Owner?