The Dog Grumbler
I OFTEN make the point that dogs train themselves and that we need only behave consistently within a dog’s frame of reference to achieve the behaviour we require.
We teach obedience with clear signals and clear consistent sequences of events that end in good things. We start with a signal and say, “sit”. The dog sits. The dog is praised and/or rewarded.
We do it the same way every time and in the same situations, consistently and patiently.
The dog will do the rest, but we can make its job much easier if we work within that “dog” frame of reference.
For the signal, any word or sound will work, but “sit” is sharp and short with a sibilant at the front.
A dog hears anything with an “s” in it. This is right there in the range your dog hears best, along with the car keys and the gate latch.
We add a hand signal because for a dog, it’s more about the body language than the words.
This ability to read hand signals sets dogs apart from all the other canids — even their grey wolf ancestors — and just about all non-human creatures.
We make sure the dog sits. We physically manipulate the dog into a sit position if it doesn’t understand right away from the body language.
Your dog will want to please you as long as you act like a leader.
It may seem obvious to you what “sit” means and indeed, this is the easiest obedience sequence to teach and learn because it is a very dog-to-human thing.
It’s like a salute or a bow. It says, “I’m ready.”
But this doesn’t mean a dog connects the signal and the action automatically.
We must be sure the dog knows what it is being rewarded for. Most dog trainers use a “bridge” here.
This is a sound that is always followed by the reward. It needs to be a sound the dog can hear easily amid the drone of human speech.
“Yes” or a clicker are common. We say “yes” or “good dog” or use the clicker as soon as the dog sits.
Now we reward the dog. We throw the ball. We feed the canine confectionery. We act pleased.
Soon, we have a dog that happily sits when we tell it to do so. If we apply this the same way in the same situations consistently, the dog will come to expect it.
If we have our dog sit whenever we come to the kerb to cross the street, eventually the dog will sit at the kerb without being told. Now we have behaviour.
Your dog will learn all the things that you do consistently. It will learn all the things that please you and the things that make you angry. It will have faith in you. A good dog trainer has faith in a dog and believes that one day the dog will get it right.
Patiently show your dog what you want from it. Every dog is different and learns in it’s own way, but all need patient, reliable repetition.
Sometimes it seems like hard work but those of us who have faith, who stick with it, know that it’s worth the effort.
And after all, it’s the dog that is doing all the work.