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Is it wrong to talk to our dogs

I received a number of enquires over the last few months about when and how to talk to a dog particularly during training classes. Some instructors believe that as dogs are wolves then talking to them and fussing them during the class or even outside of a class is unhelpful. This to a degree is true as our dogs actually learn to react more quickly our body signals than they do our verbal commands. Does this mean that words are unnecessary?

I am always talking to Winston but I know that for him he does not understand the words. I am simply just thinking out allowed but I do not expect him to know what I am saying. Using the right words makes my body language reflect this and which Winston can read. This is why we need to use words particularly when we are doing basic training.

All dogs appreciate you showing your dog attention in a happy tone. Yes, the words are irrelevant to your dog but they are to you as they influence our mood. If I see Winston sat outside, I will say “Who’s a good boy then?” He will jump up and come in to see me with a happy feeling. We all do this and love the way in which our dogs respond and reflect our moods. This is just one of the reasons we like our dogs as our companions.

Yes, dogs are domesticated wolves but if I had the opportunity, I would still train a wolf the same way I would train a dog. Think back 13,000 years to ask the question how would a wolf have been domesticated and why.

The answer always is mutual benefit for the wolf and the humans. There is scientific belief that the Adam and Eve of dogs started in Asia. I cannot accept that. Wherever the smaller European wolf encountered humans, someone would have found the cubs appealing enough to strike up a friendship. For the wolf, too the opportunity of easy food from mans greater ability to hunt and receive protection from man especially with his power of fire.

Today we know that in training using the No command or chastisement involving pain will work if you can restrain the animal to remain with you and become subservient. Nevertheless, to start and to make friends with a wild wolf can have only come for verbal encouragement, kindness possibly using food and speaking using soft tones.

We can all understand if we were to use aggressive words and tones, this would only chase the wolf away. Our tone of voice is so very important. It is also important the words we use as these influence our body language to portray our kind feeling. Saying happy words will make us look happy.

Where handlers have used enforcement training, it has not made a dog work at its best. To stand any chance getting the best from our dogs we need its enthusiasm. Shouting, hitting or using any other form of chastisement because a dog is failing to do what handlers want it to do will only put training back by major steps.

You must always encourage your dog to do what you want it to do. If it is doing something it should not be doing you need to channel the training so that it learns that it is better to be doing something else rather than just stopping what it was doing wrong.

Some weeks ago, I wrote that dogs only wish to play games and if what you want a dog to do is not some form of play, it will not like doing it. The normal games for wolves and dogs are dominancy games like King of the Castle and Pull games of sticks or bone etc with hunting games like Chase games like Tag, Wrestling, and "what’s the time Mr Wolf" where dogs stalk one another. They also play hide and seek and then leap out at them when they have found them using scent. They play such games for improving their skills in order to survive and to have fun.

In any puppy class right up to teaching criminal work or drug detection, the dog works as if it is a game but we do know that a dog’s ability to concentrate before it becomes board is about 20 or 30 minutes.

One of our human problems is we are unwilling to exhibit our selves in public when we give our dog loads of praise. Many months ago I wrote about the York City Safety training classes, where PC Alan Smith was the instructor and PC (Big) John Poole was training his new Police puppy. In one halt where handlers told their dogs to sit the other owners were only speaking in a normal tone, “Sit” followed by in the same tone “Good Dog”. John on the other hand got down on his hands and knees praising his dog in over the top gestures of showing his dog his pleasure at him sitting on command. The next command his dog sat immediately where all the other handlers were still going “ Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit” and when their dogs did sit the praise was in the same tone as the sit.

The quicker you can translate the command to an action and fix it in the dogs mind then it will be willing to do it again. If it becomes confused, as it is uncertain what its handler is wanting and sees the handler becoming annoyed then such teaching is backwards. This is not theory this is fact. I have been there and on many occasions, I have spoilt my training because I could not translate the command and lost my cool. You cannot afford to loose your cool and become angry, as your dog will just back away from you. It then takes a long time to regain your dog’s trust.

You may recognise a dog taught using enforcement training, as it appears effectively broken like a horse. It will prefer to stay in the background or if it does come to see the handler, it will appear weary of making a mistake and witnessing the handler’s wrath. That sort of life for a dog is very stressful.

I do not wish to see any dog of mine live in fear of my anger and more and more dog owners are only wishing for the same. It is for this reason I try to use few words and prefer to use signals instead. Clapping my hands is far better than calling Come as there can never be any sign of any anger.

It is only logical that those owners who would like to train their dogs are not in favour of using enforcement training. They want to enjoy training their dogs because it is should be fun for both dog and handler. If training is not fun for me, I am certain my dog is defiantly not going to like it.

I hear many trainers telling me that all their handlers like the normal type of training but then I ask how many people have in fact left the class. The answer is usually that they expect a number who do not like the work required training their dogs but never that an owner objects to the actual method of training. If you start with 10 dogs in a class, you should finish a course with 10 dogs. If the training is good, there should not be any dropouts.

If I went to a training class with Winston, I would not let any instructor tell me to put a choker on him or not to praise or fuss him when he is doing well. If he still let me train then I hope to show that by my friendly style of training my dog is learning faster than the other dogs so that other handlers may copy me and be successful too. My personal hope is that the instructor would also learn.

One of the great advantages for me of having a big dog is I can fuss and pat my dog without having to bend down but there is in fact a differing form of pleasure that humans obtain from this action that dogs are receiving yet it looks the same. When I stroke Winston on his head, muzzle, or neck, I will find my heart rate and blood pressure dropping, as this is a calming and is a very pleasurable feeling.

For the dog, such actions are recived as dominancy signs that I am showing to Winston. He thinks I am saying I am the leader and recognise his position. Winston obtains pleasure from this because when I touch him and give him attention I am acknowledging his position in the hierarchy. He then feels his place is safe and reacts with pleasure yet the language he is reading is actually different to the message I was trying to send.

It does make training a little difficult when dogs do prefer to respond better to body commands than to verbal commands. It is only in the beginning of training we need words, tones and body gestures to show your dog you are very pleased when it has done something correctly. Gradually as training progresses, it is possible to reduce the combinations to such a degree you cannot see any commands at all. Only your dog knows you have given a command.

We watched Kathy Eason run through the normal Kennel Club Obedience Championship routine of Sit, Stand and Down without ever saying a word or seemingly moving her body. How did she achieve this? Was it telepathy? No it is simply her dogs learn to spot the faintest movement of our body and learn to know what command is coming next. That is how good all dogs can become with practice but how do you begin.

In the initial stages of training handlers must appear over the top with praise using words and pleasing tones of voice. To use words is not because the dog understands them but it makes your body show that you are pleased. You can then find that using titbits as well reinforces your pleasure so that it will encourage your dog to do what you want it to do it again. In all your training, it has to be win, win, win in a playful situation. When training puppies we have to show so much pleasure we have to careful a policeman does not arrest us but your dog will understand quickly without any confusion.

If you are using a style of training that is boring and dull, dogs will only learn by simple enforced repetition. I will not say such a method does not work because it does. It is up to the owners who wish to train in a fun way or as if you were in the army on the parade ground. For me I like to see both the handlers and their dogs look like a happy team. What sort of team would you like to be?

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