Keep it simple. English is a foreign language to your dog. Here are a five rules to help bridge the communication gap.
Rule #1: Don't repeat cues. You think: your dog didn't hear you the first time. Your dog thinks: you sound like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons, "whah whah whah whah" (see video below). Pair a single verbal cue with a physical prompt or hand signal that shows your dog what it is that you want him or her to do.
Rule #2: Dogs are more visual than they are auditory. Using verbal cues when your dog is under a high level of stress or arousal will long-term diminish the significance of your verbal cues. For example, if your dog begins barking at the neighbor's dog it is more effective to body block (visually block his line of sight) and lead him in the opposite direction, than it is to shout "quiet" or "no bark." If anything your dog is likely to interpret loud, repetitive commands as you joining in with the barking.
Rule#3: One word, one meaning. Don't confuse your dog by using one word to mean two different behaviors. If "down" means put your belly to the ground, you should use another word, like "off," to mean jump off the couch. If you say "down" when your dog is on the couch you are basically telling him "get comfortable." If you want your dog to sit, say "sit." It's confusing for a dog to hear the words "sit-down" - which taken literally should mean sit first, then proceed to down position.
Rule #4: Generalize cues. If dad trained the dog to sit, lie down, stay, come, leave-it, high five, spin in a circle and play dead on the carpet in the family room, that's a great start. Now the dogs needs help learning how to generalize all of these behaviors to: 1. other family members 2. to other surfaces 3. to other environments 4. to a large variety of distractions.
Rule #5: It's a two way street. We spend a lot of time trying to teach our dogs to listen to our every command, but we fail to take the time to listen to their attempts to communicate with us. Become an expert in canine body language. Respect your dogs attempt to communicate. Know when to remove your dog from an environment that may be causing undue stress, anxiety or frustration.
Written by Alyssa Lapinel, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist. Alyssa is the owner and head trainer of Legends Dog Training in San Diego, California.
For more information about customized training for your dog, go to the "contact us" tab at www.legendsdogtraining.com and fill out the behavior assessment form.
Alyssa Lapinel, CPDT
Certified by the Council for Professional Dog Trainers