Wordy

I’ve been doing something a lot of us probably don’t do–watching a dog training DVD from a trainer outside of my usual style.

The background: I do positive training, with clicker training for new skills that need it. I’m not wild about clicker training every little thing. That said, Silas knows the meaning of the word “no,” and I have punished him for some bad behaviors that we couldn’t break otherwise. (Mainly a spritz of water for scratching the couch cushions, which he was doing obsessively.) Those “corrections” never enter into our training sessions; they’re reserved exclusively for problem lifestyle behaviors. I try my darndest not to need them there. I would never, ever physically correct him, because it’s not something I like and, far more importantly, he’s too sensitive for it. This DVD I’m watching uses some reward markers and some scolding, with physical corrections presented as appropriate once the dog reaches a certain stage.

What is really interesting to me is the amount of words that are required to, at the most basic level, use both “yes” and “no” to teach a behavior. The context of this is teaching tug, specifically teaching tug well enough that it could be used as an obedience reward. This requires that your dog has good drive for the tug toy, and that your dog will give and take the toy immediately on request.

One of the schools of teaching tug uses dramatically fewer words than the other.

School A:
Tell your dog to take the tug. Dog tugs. You can praise or whatever as the dog tugs, then hold the toy still and ask the dog to give you the toy. The reward for giving the tug is that the dog gets to tug again. If the dog barks for the toy and you don’t like that, walk away. The only words are the give and the take. If the dog takes the toy before you ask, simply hold it still again. Even the release word is not terribly important; I’ve actually dropped mine with Silas recently in favor of just hold the toy in a particular way.

School B:
Tell your dog to take the tug. Dog tugs. Ask the dog to give you the tug back and hold the toy still. If the dog continues to tug, say no. Repeat no “as needed.” Then praise the dog. If the dog barks for the toy, scold them. Then give the dog the command to take the toy. Ten seconds of a given session may sound like “Out. No. Good. No. Yes.” The end point of this training (what the instructor does with his own dog) looks identical to School A’s.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong in telling a dog no or an equivalent word, in the non-angry way that happens in this DVD. It’s useful data for them in some scenarios. BUT, a dog who won’t release a tug doesn’t give a d**n about what you’re saying. They are not on your planet. If they were, the game itself would have already cued the release. That is, holding the toy still is the only data the dog really needs. In the zillion sample scenarios on the DVD, almost every single owner struggles with when and how to say the various cues, and the trainer has to constantly prompt them.

My question is: why bother? Why clutter up your training with so many completely unnecessary, hard to manage words, when you’re already giving the dog all the information it needs?

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4 thoughts on “Wordy

  1. So true! I know with Blueberry she is always watching me rather than waiting for any verbal commands. Plus, I am not good at saying the exact same thing every time. Usually just a “tsk” from me will let her know to get back on track when we are walking on the trail and she decides to try and veer off of it.

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  2. Being the happy human to Azule, a completely deaf dog and Brook, with very poor hearing (and blind) I have come to learn the value of not speaking. With Azule, hand signals are so easy. It’s made me re-think training and focus on human body language and the value of eye contact from and to the dog. With Brook, there are more touch commands.

    You’re right, they don’t know, nor do they really care what you’re saying. Actions (or lack of) speak louder than words.

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  3. Interesting comparison…I tend to save the word “No” for the big stuff…and for the life of me, right now, I can’t think of the last time I’ve used it in any kind of correction context…What i use is a funny-sounding “Eh Eh” noise that Giz knows means I want him to stop what he’s doing but it’s not dangerous, life-threatening or destructive…It’s sound and the tone that get my meaning across and there’s no need for more words

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  4. I talk to my dogs probably way more than I should. But I use no, specifically with Delilah when we are walking. No Delilah, this way! Mostly it works but sometimes it doesn’t. I will also suck in my breath which usually makes Hubby shout, “What’s Wrong?” LOL

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