One goal in our classes is to have a dog that will respond to the first command given in a normal tone of voice, a goal that may not be so easy to accomplish without some effort. I had not really given this much thought until the other night when one of my students said how impressed he was that my dog was responding to such a quiet tone of voice. I was surprised that the reason for this was not obvious. We tell students what we want them to do and wonder why it may not be working. Students do not know deep down inside that their dog will learn what we set out to teach them. The student may not have the confidence that his dog will learn to respond to his commands.
We stress that for a dog to respond, as we want, the first command given in a normal tone of voice must be enforced. Initially the student follows through but at some point he may feel that the dog should be responding on his own. The command is given followed by a pause to see if the dog will respond. When he doesn’t, the command is given again thinking the dog didn’t hear it the first time. The dog does not respond a second time. Now the volume increases along with a more demanding tone followed by enforcement of the command. The dog learns quickly when the command will be enforced and responds accordingly. We have made the decision as to when the dog should start responding instead of letting the dog, through his actions, tell us. There is no need to yell at a dog. His hearing is quite good. Think of these situations in everyday life where our dog responds to sounds we don’t hear. (The sound of paper rattling in the kitchen).
The attitude of the owner towards his dog also influences the way a command is given. If the attitude is that training is a battle of wills, and that the dog is to be dominated, the commands will reflect it. Some how we feel that a dog can understand that a demanding tone means that the dog understands the consequence which is implied in our tone of voice if he refuses a command.
Teaching a dog to respond to a soft voice giving commands pleasantly requires a great deal of self-control. This comes from having the confidence in knowing that the dog will learn the task. It comes from not trying to set some arbitrary deadline to accomplish it. It comes from respecting the dog. The attitude towards your dog should be one of understanding and trying to make the task as easy as possible for the dog to learn. If the method is sound, the dog will learn.
©1987 W. Herbert Morrison, III