What you talking about?

Before we start training there are three main things every new owner needs to understand about their dog:

  1. Dogs don't work just for your approval - they need motivation in the form of rewards

  2. Punishment, however well intentioned, is ineffective in the long term

  3. Dogs don't understand English!

In my experience of working with lots of people and their dogs, it is number 3 that causes the most issues. Understandably so, we are verbal creatures that communicate with words, whilst dogs learn patterns and actions. Very often we end up talk, talk, talking whilst our dogs are watch, watch, watching. Result, no communication and a degree of frustration.

From the moment a new dog arrives in our home they are working hard to decipher our patterns and figure out what it means to them. They are learning which pair of shoes means being taken out for a walk, or being left at home for a while. Which sounds and routines mean food is available or whether the kitchen is closing. Dogs learn the patterns associated with you popping out to collect a delivery, compared to going to bed for the night. All of this is far more important to them than listening to meaningless words.

Yet we know dogs do make connection between words and behaviours, how does this happen?

The first thing to remember is that it happens slowly, it takes time, learning words is not easy and you need to be patient.

Your dog is learning associations between patterns and words. These patterns include the environment, where it happens, time of day, when it happens, context, what or who needs to be present. On top of this we can add our body language, the way we move and in which direction as well as the clothing we are wearing. To help our dog learn these patterns all of these need to be consistent. Consistency comes from planning and preparation, not something all dog people find easy, but well worth practising.

I'm used to working with families and one issue that is likely to cause fallout is the failure of family members to use the same words. This isn't worth the stress, rather than argue about words focus on consistency of body language and context. Dogs are very forgiving and can learn that "sit" from you, is not the same as "sit" from your partner, son or daughter. If you have ambitions towards a sports career then build a unique vocabulary between you and your dog - it does work!

Take some time to plan which patterns you want your dog to find relevant and which should be irrelevant. Whilst dogs are designed to join in our activities and follow us around, it can get wearing if your dog gets overly excited every time you visit the loo. If you want your dog to find some patterns irrelevant, of no consequence to them, then practice inconsistency, change your patterns. When a pattern is relevant and has positive consequences for our dogs then we want to encourage 'cue seeking' and you can read more about that here: https://www.clareteachingdogs.com/post/beginners-guide-to-teaching-cue-seeking

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