INTRODUCING AND USING COMMANDS

Excerpt from The Perfect Companion © Karen Davison

HOW TO INTRODUCE VERBAL COMMANDS



This is an area where owners often make errors that cause confusion, and affect the reliability of training.

Dogs do not understand English! One of the most common mistakes when teaching a dog something new, is to use a command before the dog has learned the significance of the word.

If you introduce your command too early, it is just a sound that keeps coming out of your mouth that has no association to any action.

When trying to teach something new, either use hands off training (lure and reward) to encourage the desired action, or reward behaviour your dog presents naturally.
If an action is reinforced with a reward, your dog will offer you the behaviour more often. The more times they repeat the behaviour and are rewarded, the stronger the behaviour becomes.

When you have achieved a few successes, you can then begin to introduce a command as your dog offers the behaviour, your dog will quickly learn to associate the sound of the command with the action

USING VERBAL COMMANDS EFFECTIVELY



Only use simple verbal commands and keep the volume down! Softly, softly, catchy monkey You do not need to shout at your dog to get your point across, in fact the quieter the commands - the better. Tone of voice is everything, shouting commands can confuse your dog and cause stress. When dogs are stressed they cannot focus or think clearly, and this inhibits learning. Louder does not equal clearer. It is comparable to visiting another country, and trying to communicate in a foreign language and thinking that shouting will make you more understandable!

Keep to simple commands and resist the temptation to add in your dog’s name. For instance, just say ‘sit’, not ‘sit down’ ‘Rex sit’ ‘Sit Rex’ or various other combinations. Remember dogs do not understand words, they associate a particular sound with a particular action. So keep it simple and consistent.

DON'T REPEAT YOUR COMMANDS!



Once you have established a verbal command - only give it once! You need to give your dog a chance to process information and make a choice. If you keep repeating your commands it can be confusing for your dog. Repeating yourself is not consistent and does not sound the same to your dog. Remember, dogs do not understand language; they learn to associate a particular sound, with a particular action.

USING HAND SIGNALS OR VISUAL CUES



There are advantages to using hand signals or visual cues in conjunction with, instead of, or as well as verbal commands. Dogs are capable of learning more than one cue (both verbal and visual) for the same behaviour. For instance for the action stay, you could use a verbal command ‘stay’ and/or a palm forward flat hand signal.

Dogs are tuned in to body language. You will notice that sometimes your dog will start to get excited when you have decided to take them out, even before you have begun to put on your shoes or coat. You give off quite subtle body language signals that your dog picks up on. Using hand signals or visual cues encourages your dog's focus.
You will not achieve reliable training by repeating commands over and over. Often owners not only repeat, but also raise the volume as they go along, sit, sit, sit, SIT, SIT until eventually the dog sits. The dog is then rewarded for sitting. This then becomes an optional request, it encourages slow responses, and the dog learns that if she/he finally gets around to it, she/he will be rewarded all the same
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