Monday, August 6, 2007

Dog Training Seminar, Part 2

Last post, I discussed my philosophy of dog training. The next two posts in this series will be my rules for dog training.

Rule Number 1: Discipline means “to teach,” not “to punish.”

All dogs need discipline. Teach your dog and he will learn. Punish him and he won’t. Your first obligation to your dog is to teach him how to live in your world. You can’t blame him for breaking the rules if you never taught him right from wrong.

Rule Number 2: People are verbal, dogs are physical.

People are often afraid to put their hands on a puppy. Oh, they will pick it up and hold it and pet it and cuddle with it and scratch it behind the ears. But, to put their hands on a puppy to teach her sounds like corporeal punishment. “Oh, no,” they say, “I don’t believe in spanking. I never spanked my children, and I won’t use physical methods to correct my puppy, either.”

Well, if you are talking about spanking a puppy on the fanny, I agree. Dogs don’t use fanny-spanking as a means of communication with each other and won’t understand it. But, neither will they understand it if we just talk, talk, talk at them without using our hands to show them what do to. Dogs use many physical means of communication, and just as we expect them to learn our language, we must learn to use theirs. While our puppies are learning words, we must also learn canine signals and cues. Much more on this later.

Rule Number 3: Dogs don’t speak English.

Or French, or Spanish, or Farsi, for that matter. They can learn to understand our words, but they are not born with the knowledge that this sound equals that behavior. We must show them the meanings of our words.

Rule 3.1: Dogs can't read, either. But, don't tell Holly that!

Corollary A: Say it once.

Saying “Sit” over and over doesn’t help him learn the word unless you show him what the word means. Give the command, demonstrate what you mean, and say it again when the behavior is complete. Example: Say “Sit.” Put the puppy in a sit position. Reward, while saying “Good Sit.”

Corollary B: Say it the same way.
If “Sit” doesn’t work, don’t change it up. “Sit, Sit down, Sit right here, Sit right now, why won’t you Sit, dammit?” is not a command, it is nagging. No one listens to nagging. Your husband doesn’t, your kids don’t, your dog won’t. Don’t nag.

Corollary C: Say it softly.
Dogs are not deaf. If your dog doesn’t sit when you say “Sit,” yelling it won’t help. Either he doesn’t know what you mean (so teach him), or if you are sure he does know the word, then he is blowing you off and you must enforce your command.

Rule Number 4: Listen to your tone of voice.

Dogs are very keyed into the sound of our voice, the pitch, the timber, the cadence. These subtexts are called “paralanguage,” and it is important that we learn to use these tones when we train dogs. There are three basic tones: High pitched and whining (puppy-like), low pitched and growling (mom-dog voice), and a medium range. Talking to your puppy in a high-pitched whimper makes you sound weak, like another puppy, which you don’t want to be, right? Corrections should be in a lower toned growl – short, abrupt, and to the point. All other commands and conversations with your dog should be in a medium range, the tone you use when talking.

le Number 5: Give every action a name.

Say the word, then show the dog what the word means. Remember the movie “The Miracle Worker,” where Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) tries to teach Helen Keller (Patty Duke) sign language? She spells “bird” into Helen’s hand then lets her feel a bird, saying, “It has a name.” She does the same with every common object she can think of, over and over. When Helen makes the connection between the sensation of running water, the feel of the letters W-A-T-E-R signed into her hands, and the half-remembered baby word “wah-wah,” she begins to learn. When your dog makes his first connection between the sound from your mouth and the action you are demonstrating, you will see the same spark of recognition cross his face. You can almost hear him think “Ah-HA! So THAT is what she means! What do you know? Well, this is easy. I can do this.”

Next time: 5 more rules, and a bonus thought.


KGMom said...

Loved this next installment, and am now waiting # 3.
And, I love the scene you refer to from the Miracle Worker--guaranteed to make me cry every time.

Anonymous said...

I have two Golden Retrievers who are very well behaved, except for one small thing. The younger one simply never learned the command, "down." She quickly learned "sit" and "stay." When we got to "down" I would give the command and then push her down. She thought it was great fun and got the idea that "down" meant, "Oh boy! She's going to push me to the floor again." She will "go to the mat" when we have guests and stay until I say, "release." But she still doesn't get the down command. I even tried using our older dog so she could watch but to no avail. Guess it doesn't matter much if she will sit and stay on command.

KatDoc said...

Dear Anon: "Down" is very hard for a lot of dogs. It is a more submissive posture, for one thing, so some dogs don't like it because they want to be in a more "elevated" position, both physically and socially. It is also a more dangerous one - it is harder to run away from an enemy if you are laying down, so a dog might object on the basis of fear.

Or, it may just be that you haven't found the method to teach that command to that dog. One thing I dislike about some dog training books and classes is the "one size fits all" approach. While pushing down on the shoulders might have worked to teach "down" to your first dog, another approach might work better with your second one. I personally don't like training methods that involve pushing a dog into position. I prefer methods where the dog moves himself into the position I want him to assume. Also, some dogs respond to pushing and pulling by pushing and pulling back.

Try this: Find a "high value" treat that your dog really, really likes and you know she will work for, something like a piece of cheese or a bit of hot dog. Make it a small piece, the size of a nickel or less. Hold it in your hand so she can smell it, but not take it from you. Have her sit, then slowly lower the hand with the treat to the floor while saying "D-O-O-W-N." If you think the word "down" has become corrupted by her previous problems with that command, use a different word. (Place, Plotz [German for "down;" a lot of people train their dogs to German commands], Lie - the word doesn't matter, as long as it is one syllable, without a lot of hard sounds, and it comes out of your mouth naturally, so that you are comfortable using it.) Use a low tone, with a drawn-out word, not a quick, snappy command like a drill instructor. The treat (in your hand) should go from the nose straight down to the floor, maybe a bit in front of her, but not too far. (Too far forward and she will stand up and walk to the treat.) Hold your treat hand there on the floor. SAY NOTHING ELSE, just wait. If her nose comes down to the treat, slide your hand slightly forward along the floor. Her nose should continue to follow, and she should gradually lower her forelegs and body. Try not to move any other part of your body but that hand.

If she gets even half-way, reward her while she is still lowered, but not if she snaps back up to a sit. (That's why you don't move any other part of your body - you will distract her and she will return to her default position, the Sit, which she knows is a Good Thing to do when you are confused.)

If she can do just that much, repeat the exercise two or three times, then quit. The next day, try again. As she begins to become comfortable with what you are asking her to do, wait till she gets lower and lower before rewarding her.

If she won't lower even her head for the treat, a) SAY NOTHING and just quit and b)Find a better treat for your next session.

Please write back and let me know if you have any success with teaching her Down. Oh, and about your last line, "Guess it doesn't matter much if she will sit and stay on command." If it doesn't matter to you, then no, it doesn't matter, but maybe there are times when Down would be more convenient than Sit. I believe that the more words dogs can learn (both words for actions and words for objects) the better. It helps them to learn new things and to interact with us. Just my opinion,


Anonymous said...

Kathi, You're a GENIUS! This morning, armed with tiny bits of cheddar cheese, I followed your advice. I put both dogs together and had them sit. Then I gave the "down" command. Ellie immediately went down and Lucy sat there. As I lowered the cheese as you suggested, she put her head down to follow it and actually slipped into the down position. (I think it helped that we were on hardwood floors.) At any rate, after four of the "accidental" downs by slipping, Lucy understood the command. In fact, as soon as she did the sit, she did the down before I commanded her. I worked a bit more to make her wait for the down command before rewarding her.

So your great advice and a single piece of cheese among the two dogs made the difference. This afternoon we will try it outdoors, and tomorrow without any cheese.

What a treat to see both of my golden girls follow the down command in unison.

Thanks a million.

KatDoc said...


Terrific! So glad it worked for you and Lucy. Also, good for you for recognizing her anticipation and not letting her jump the gun by doing a "down" before you asked for it.

A word of caution, don't move too quickly. Just because she got it today, indoors, with a treat doesn't mean she will get it tomorrow, outdoors or without a treat. Practice indoors a few more times, in different rooms and with different surfaces (carpet, tile, whatever you have) with and without her sister present. Try treating every second or third time she responds. Then, try without a treat, then move to outdoors, where there are more distractions. Small steps.

In our excitement when our dogs learn something new, we all tend to want to make big leaps during training, where "slow and steady" is more likely to win the race. Happy training!