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16/01/2024 - Training Tips and Principles

The challenge is how to be clear and consistent
               ... and it's not easy!


How clear do you think you are when communicating with your dog?

Do you have lots of words that mean the same thing?

Do different people in the family say and do different things?

Do you feel you need to repeat yourself?

Being clear, consistent and easy to understand is super important when communicating with our dogs, because our dogs are really clever at working things out, particularly when there is something good in it for them.

Let's use coming back when called as a good example of why consistency is important, because it is one of those crucial behaviours that I often problem solve with clients.

How many recall cues does your dog have?

I am sure you have a few different cues that you shout out when you want your dog to run back to you, some more effective than others, but let’s first think about those ones our dogs have worked out for themselves. My dogs have had a few over the years:

  • Opening of the ham or cocktail sausage packet = rushing to the fridge because she might get a titbit.
  • Picking up the lead or saying the word 'right' with purpose  (because that’s what I usually say when I am getting up to do something) = she comes running because she thinks she is going out for a lovely run.  
  • Someone coming to the door, especially my builder or my neighbours = she gets lots of love and cuddles.
  • Picking the blackberries = he will get a few on the way round.

All these are super effective and rarely fail because there is something good in it for my dog and they are often very consistent. My point is, your dog learns all these amazing cues without you realising it, but sometimes when we try to train a dog to come when called we end up confusing our dog.

What happens in the real world?

In training we work hard to build that clarity and consistency, but then in real life, it sometimes breaks down. We repeat things, we use different words each time, we escalate to the word that 'works' after trying a whole load of other versions of our coming back when called. This is what I often hear when someone is challenged in getting their dog back to them:

  • Fido here, Fido here, Fido come here, Fido NO, FIDO - in quick succession.
  • Fido Come ... Come ... Come - and the dog comes on the third call because that's what they always do.
  • Fido here, come here, COME, WHAT'S THIS, TREATIES - each unsuccessful attempt results in finally getting to the one that works because it guarantees the FOOD.

These dogs come back, but life could be so much simpler!

Here are my top FOUR tips for bringing more consistency and clarity in to your training and how you take that into the real world.

1. Clear Verbal Cues

Use clear and consistent cues for what you are asking your dog to do. Ensure that they are the same each time and each member of the family is doing the same thing and expecting the same results.

2. Clear Physical Cues

Think not just about what you say, but also what you do. Dogs are incredibly adept at  reading you. For example, if you build a ‘this way’ cue to follow where you go, and you always take a step back as you train it, then that has likely become part of the cue. Then you try it in real life, but don’t take a step back and your dog does not respond, and you think your dog is being stubborn.

3. Clear, Timely and Generous Reinforcement

Deliver your reinforcement so that your dog associates it with the specific action you want to reinforce, but don’t skimp. One quick piece of food might not be enough. As anyone who works with me knows, generosity in that moment is important. Don't throw away the opportunity ot make sure that your dog knows how great they are.

4. Check yourself out

Next time you walk your dog, or do any training with your dog, listen to what you do and say. My top tip is to video yourself. Watch it three times at least. Once to watch you, once to watch your dog, and once to watch the whole scene.  You might be surprised at what you see and hear.

Simple things can make such a difference.