The most important tool in training a dog is the voice. As an instructor, it is up to you to convey this knowledge to the beginner student and make sure he is effectively using it. The collar, the lead and the hand are all physical tools we use in training. While we rely on them greatly (a snap on the collar, a jerk on the lead, a tap with the hand,) they all require that we be in very close proximity to the dog. The voice, however, can emit response without ever having to physically touch the dog, or even be near him.
Voice tone is the first thing a beginner trainer must learn. Dogs do not understand the English language as we do. Through training, we condition -not teach -our dogs to certain words. For example, we say the word, “Sit;” physically sit the dog and praise him. The dog is conditioned to sit on the command, but he does not understand the actual word “Sit.” To prove this theory, take the phrase, “good boy.” Said in a happy, pleasant tine, he dog will wag his tail and exhibit pleasure. But say the same phrase “good boy” in a harsh tone (as if saying “bad boy”) and the dog will hang his head as if ashamed. The word “good” itself means nothing to the dog unless coupled with a pleasant tone. The dog has been conditioned that the words “good boy” PLUS a pleasant tone emits a pleasant response from the trainer.
Try leaving the dog and calling, “Fido, Sit!” in the same tone you would use for “Fido, Come!” Chances are the dog will get up and come to you -or at least make a move and stop. Or say, “Fido, Sit!” and use a hand signal to “down.” In most cases, the conditioning of the hand signal will override the word “sit,” and the dog will go down.
The beginner must then realize that saying “No!” in a monotone (or even a nice tone) will not effectively correct the dog. The dog does not understand that a pleasant “No, Fido” means that he has done something wrong. A command to “Sit” or “Stay” used with an uplifting tone (as used with “come”) will not establish a no-nonsense approach to making the dog obey the command.
The dog senses that the owner “does not mean business” -simply by his tone of voice. By the same token, calling the dog in a harsh tone will not emit a fast and happy recall. A word that is not used with the proper corresponding tone confuses the dog.
On the other hand, improper use of commands by the trainer can also confuse the dog. This is a very common problem with the beginner. For example, telling a dog that has been trained to sit and to lay down to “sit down” is confusing to the dog. An even more common mistake is that when the dog jumps on the bed and is told to “get down.” I always tell my students that if the dog lays down, they can sleep on the couch that night, because the dog has obeyed the command (down) and must be praised. An effective alternative is to tell the dog to “get off.”
Even though these theories seem quite simple to the experienced trainer, they are all common mistakes made by the beginner. They merely utilize common sense (point that out to your students) and after all, common sense is an important building block of all learning. . .for humans and dogs.
©1990 Bonnie Thiel