What’s in a word?

Often when I’m starting with a new client on a training journey it’s clear they don’t know what the words their using for their dog mean. Their often saying “sit down” or “wait wait wait” or shouting “hhheeeeellll” with no definition of the words to them. Not because they don’t understand the meaning of the word themselves, but more they don’t under what they want it to mean for their dogs. So if the owner doesn’t know then dog hadn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of knowing what we’re on about. It’s all gibberish to them before they start to learn the rewards and consequences.

So we sit down in the session and define the words their using. Work out the meaning so we can communicate to the dog.

At the end of the day all the commands/cues we use are just sounds to the dog. Sounds with a meaning behind them, the clearer we can be the more our dogs will flourish with training.

So for me the word “Sit” means for the dog to put their bottom on the floor, and keep it there. Sit is not a hover by the ground, or a half a second stop and hop up. It’s a stationary behaviour.

The words you use as part of training need to have a consistent meaning. This education of meaning starts in the home, ideally I would use meal times to start the training at home. Rewarding the behaviour as much as possible so that the dog has a clear understanding of what that sound means.

It might seem like I’m sounding like an idiot and giving you super basic things. But sit down right now and write the words along with their definition. Then tell me your dog understands the definition? If they do and they do the behaviour a hundred percent of the time, without question then you don’t need a dog trainer. But if you have noticed them being unable to sit on your left as you always practice on your right, or their sit being more of a hover then I would suggest you go back to basics.

Keeping commands to one word makes a huge difference. It’s a single sound they need to understand then. “Sit” rather than “Sit Down” or “Come” instead of “Come Here”. Maintaining a consistent single sound will make learning for your dog so much easier. It’s this reason why whistles can also be beneficial for training as its a consistent sound.

Once you start to be clearer with your dogs training, lots of things fall into place. Especially focus on walks, as they learn they’ll get rewarded for specific behaviour so will offer it. Since they also know what you expect from them they stop going to look for rewards to elsewhere, like sniffing or running off to dogs.

The earlier you start the more successful you’ll be. But regardless of if your dog is 12 weeks old or five years old being clearer can only make training better.

Have specific words for each side they heel on. Heel and close. As well as clearly defined words for all their commands which don’t over lap or sound similar. Each word is different to the other so it’s clear to the dogs what I’m communicating. On the flip side to this my dogs have clear cues to me when they want to go out, play a game, go somewhere, be left alone and much more. Because we communicate together.

All in all not only will being clearer with your communication help your dog understand, it’ll also reduce your frustration issues. Frustration is a huge issue with progress in training for people, as we start to chop and change our training in the end more confusion for everyone involved.

Kathryn Jones

Training your dog shouldn’t be complicated.


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