If you’ve followed my work for any length of time — you’ll know that I really prioritize your mentality when approaching training your dogs. Generally speaking I think if you have a positive attitude about training, and use reinforcements and rewards to shape behavior, you’re on the right path. I don’t always get bogged down by little details, but in this particular case, the details really matter. My beef is with popular terminology — the word “command” that we use to describe a behavior we’d like our dog to do — for several reasons. For one: our dogs aren’t our servants so there is no need to “command” them to do anything! Second, words matter. FULL STOP. Using certain words can affect your mindset of how you’re approaching training! The intentions you set and actions that follow are hugely affected by the vocabulary you apply to training. Third, I strongly urge you to view your training as a conversation with your dog. Good conversations don’t begin with a command.
Dogs are emotional beings — and we are responsible for their emotional health as much as our own. Don’t buy into this outdated “pack leader” bullshit— I don’t. Controlling our dogs is not the goal, and commanding them has a hidden meaning of “control.” Utilize the science of how dogs learn to teach them in the most humane and effective way possible.
I am very intentional in my use of the word cue. I spend the time reinforcing a clear behavior, tying it to a cue, and continue working with my dog so their understanding of my ask is clear. I am also allowing my dog the space to not respond — consent is as important in human/dog relationships as it is in human/human relationships. Some people think consent is controversial in a lot of dog circles, but my goal is to work towards my dog willingly responding to a cue. If they don’t, that’s ok — just more information on what my dog needs going forward. Like, was my cue confusing? Were they distracted? Are they not quite to the level where they can do this consistently? Are they not being rewarded enough? All of these things are questions you should ask yourself if your dog is not reliably and willingly responding to your cues. Tough truth time: chances are that you haven’t done the work to get your dog to that success point.
Opening a “dialog” with your dog starts with understanding how dogs learn. Humans and dogs have a lot of similarities in learning behaviors (minus the spoken language part). Dogs do what works for them. That means that if your dog performs a behavior you like and want them to repeat, reward them. The more you reward for a repeated behavior, it is more likely that your dog will repeat that behavior again and again. Once you start to use this knowledge consistently you will see your dog start to offer behavior to earn their desired reward. That is the dialog that we hope to achieve with our pups. It takes work, but the results are very rewarding for human and dog alike.
I encourage you to intentionally choose to cue your dog to perform trained behaviors and discontinue commanding!
-Rachel Laurie Harris CPDT-KA