Talking "At" Your Dog... | Blogs

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Talking "At" Your Dog...
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Talking "At" Your Dog...


 Humans are naturally conversational, chatty beings. Dogs aren't. In fact, your puppy has little to no idea what you're saying. In his/her lifetime, a pup will develop the word knowledge of a two-year-old child. So....talking "at" your dog is somewhat of a waste of time, and maybe even a hinderance to his/her important early training. 

Puppies DO pick up on and respond to tone of voice. A deep, stern voice is best for correcting your pup. I use the sound, "uh uh!" when a pup has made a mistake, and follow that with a command such as, "no bark!" As soon as the pup is quiet, I switch to a higher, sing-songy voice and give a short statement of positive praise. In this example, I would say, "Good quiet!"  Praise in a high/sweet voice goes a loooong way.

Remember that your new pup doesn't know his or her name or the word "come" or any other command for that matter. To "teach" your dog a new word, you need to give that word value by pairing it with a reward.  Get into the habit of taking 20 pieces of kibble from the pup's daily food allotment and set these aside to be used for daily word training.  Start with your dog's name. For this game, your dog doesn't need to DO anything to get the reward (kibble). Simply say your dog's name and give him a piece of kibble. Repeat 20 times. Name - kibble. Name - kibble. Soon, your dog will swing his head around at the sound of his name. Why? Because something GOOD ALWAYS happens when he hears that sound combination.  By giving the kibble and pairing that with his/her name, you are creating MOTIVATION to respond to the sound of the name!

The same will be true of the word "come" or "here" as your recall word. Don't waste this important word by saying it over and over and over again to your dog before he knows what the heck it means. And for him, it HAS to mean something GOOD will ALWAYS happen when he hears it. Why else would he want to come to you? He needs motivation. And for most dogs, food = motivation. So, 20 kibbles each day should be set aside for teaching your dog his recall word. The word doesn't have to be "come" or "here," especially if you've already messed up with that word. Any word you choose will "pizza" or "cookie." Train your dog to RESPOND to the WORD before you expect him to DO anything, in the case of recall.  You want your dog to LOVE the word first.

Try not to overstimulate your dog with lots of idle chit chat when you greet him after being away from him for a period of time (for work, as an example). So many of us "teach" our dogs to go crazy when they see a human by acting like a crazy person when we greet them in those early weeks and months. After the pup learns to respond to all the excitement by jumping, running around, etc. we humans will grow irritated with their out-of-control behavior and begin to scold them for the very behavior WE created with our excited voices and hyper behavior.  If you really desire a dog who remains calm when people come and go, the door bell rings, etc., then keep your comings and goings very mellow.  Many trainers recommend that you IGNORE the dog for the first 2-5 minutes after you enter your home after being away for any length of time.  By waiting until the dog is in a calm, submissive state of mind, you are teaching your dog that THIS is the way to get the attention s/he craves.  

Once your dog knows a command, be willing to say the command ONLY ONCE and then WAIT for the dog to perform the action.   Saying "sit sit sit sit sit" only teaches your dog that she can take her sweet time performing the action, because you'll just keep repeating the command.  Trust me, they heard you the first time.  If you are finding that your dog is unwilling or uninterested in performing an action on command, chances are that you aren't rewarding that action appropriately.  Every time you ask your dog to perform an action, be ready to answer the question, "what's in it for me?" if you want a solid response from the dog.  So often, I see owners repeating commands over and over again in short succession.  They are likely thinking that the dog isn't responding quickly enough, isn't paying attention, etc.  The dog is more likely trying to figure out "what's in it for me?"  or "why should I?" If there's a reward involved, make sure the dog knows you've got it by showing it or passing it under the dog's nose.

If you catch your dog doing something "naughty," it's easy to start yelling at them to stop.  Try this:  clap your hands loudly as you approach.  Studies have shown that the sound of clapping hands is more effective at getting a dog's attention than many other sounds, including that of a loud human voice.  Once the dog stops the "naughty" behavior, give them something "legal" to do.  Offer a chew toy, interact using a tug toy, or play a game outdoors.  

It's important that your dog know the boundaries and limits on behavior in your home, and much of that teaching is conveyed using voice.  Keep it simple.  Vary your tone as the situation dictates.  Try not to repeat known commands over and over.  Introduce new/important words by using the 20-pieces of kibble game.  ALWAYS reward the behavior you've asked for.  Your pup will learn very quickly, be better-adjusted and will happily perform if you follow these few simple rules!



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