Humans like to talk to their dogs. I get it, I talk to mine all the time. And one of the best parts of talking to them is they're happy to listen. But did you know that your dog has pretty much no idea what you're saying? I say "pretty much" because they are smart enough to catch on to phrases and certain words. But how do we teach them these words and phrases? That's a great question, and knowing the answer will help you understand your dog better and ultimately teach your dog things a lot faster.
Teaching your dog a word is actually quite simple in concept. The first thing you need to do is teach the behavior. Examples of behaviors include sit, down, come, and stay. There are different ways to teach behaviors. Some behaviors you can lure, while others you can capture. If you're luring, it's recommended to get the dog to understand the hand signal prior to working on teaching the verbal cue. If you're capturing, you'll want to make sure the dog understands the sequence before adding in the verbal cue. The important part with either though is that the dog is getting the motions down, prior to adding in the verbal cue. With luring, once your dog understands the hand signal, you can start saying the verbal cue a couple seconds before giving the hand signal. At first the dog will not respond to the word, as it has no idea what relevance it has to the sequence, but with repetition of doing the sequence, the dog will catch on and do the behavior before you're able to do the hand signal. With capturing, it's important that the dog is doing the behavior reliably before you add in the verbal cue. If you try to add in the verbal cue prior to the dog understanding the sequence you'd like him to do, he'll have no idea what the word means.
Another way that dogs understand words or phrases is due to the order of events in which they're used. A couple examples are, "Wanna go for a walk?" or "Wanna treat?". The way that a dog starts to understand the meaning of these is because the phrases or words are said prior to something happening. Most people say "Wanna go for a walk?" prior to bringing the dog on a walk which serves as a predictor of walks. Dogs are smart enough to catch on to these sequences when they're done correctly.
That is how dogs understand some of the things we say. Dogs don't speak human. Pretty much everything that we say to them they hear as "blah blah blah blah blah." This is why sitting down and having a talk with them about what they did wrong doesn't and will never work. Too bad, right? Wouldn't that be great if we could just ask them nicely not to do something again?
In conclusion, if you'd like to teach your dog how to understand words or phrases, the order of events must happen in a particular order. Repeating the word over and over until the dog guesses right isn't the most efficient way either. I know we have all had a tendency to do that in the past. Stay patient, teach the behavior first, and then add in the word you'd like to use. Thanks for reading.
I am not the best dog trainer in the world. I have come a long way though. When I first started training my own dog I had no idea what I was doing and I actually made my dog's behavior worse in some ways. The only education I had was from watching tv, and that was about the worst education I could receive.
Over the past few years I worked very hard to further my knowledge. I read more books than I ever had. I went to training seminars. (And I continue to.) I worked with professional trainers. And most recently my wonderful girlfriend Kelly and I started working together which has really opened up my eyes even more on how to be a better trainer. I can now confidently say that we offer the best dog training services in our area.
With that being said, I feel that there are a lot of trainers out there that shouldn't currently be accepting money for their services. My opinion is based off of what I see in a lot of groups on Facebook. There are Facebook groups all over the place dedicated to positive training techniques. (Don't get me wrong, I really love the idea of it.) But occasionally I am scanning through these groups and I just see some of the worst advice from people that call themselves positive trainers. I remember once reading a person ask a question about how to get their dog to stop barking when people rang the doorbell to their house. The first comment I read was to counter conditioning every time someone came over. Well, this may be fantastic advice if the dog is barking because it doesn't like visitors. But what if the dog really loves visitors and it's barking out of excitement? Well, counterconditioning would then make the problem worse. We don't need the dog to associate the visitor with even more exciting stuff, right? When I read the comment I scrolled over the person's name and it said they owned their own dog training company. I instantly smacked the palm of my hand to my forehead and sighed audibly.
We need to do better than this. If we are going to hang out in Facebook groups and give advice, we need to ask more questions first. When I first got into dog training I put a lot of my eggs in the Facebook basket. I spent a lot of time answering questions for free. Thinking back I know I was guilty of giving answers prior to gathering all the information needed to give answers. Once again, I'm not perfect. No human is. But we can be better. If we want to really help people and their dogs in a humane way, we need to do better. I will be attending The Academy for Dog Trainers next year to help further my knowledge to be an even better trainer.
What to take away from this:
-If you're a trainer, never stop trying to learn. Learning is awesome. That is why I am going to invest a lot of time and money in more education via the Academy.
-Consider trying to specialize in one area before trying to take it all on. There's nothing wrong with only working with puppies, or only working with fearful dogs for example. There is so much to know in any category and if you're just starting out, it's pretty difficult to be able to help with every dog issue.
-Know what the quadrants are. If you call yourself a dog trainer and can't define what the four quadrants of operant conditioning are, you really shouldn't be taking money.
-Know what Classical Conditioning is. Dogs are always building associations. You need to know how this affects the dog and how to help control how the conditioning takes place. If you're working with dogs that have negative associations with things, and you don't know what Counter Conditioning is, you're not doing the dog or the people that own the dog any justice and shouldn't be taking their money.
-If you're going to give advice in groups, great! Just make sure to gather a proper history prior to giving advice. The example I gave above is perfect. If the dog is actually just very excited that someone is at the door, Counter Conditioning will only make him more excited.
This post isn't meant to bring anyone down. This post is meant to inspire people. Be a better dog trainer. Never stop learning. We all love dogs, but love isn't enough when it comes to helping them with their issues. Having a solid education is the best way to help dogs stay with their families.
In closing, another big take away is that if you're not doing a great job as a positive trainer, you may unintentionally turn people away from humane training techniques because they feel that they don't work. This could send them over to the local traditional trainer who is still hanging around because people feel it's the best option. Let's be the best trainers we can be. Never stop learning. Don't take on a client who you don't think you can handle. And finally, get a formal education.