This is one of many dog ownership tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work, posted here with her permission. Please note that these posts are written by a dog lover learning more every day and happy to share. They are intended to give you options and ideas to think about. They do not replace the help of a professional (such as a vet, behaviourist, trainer or lawyer). Posts can be shared with others as long as you make sure that any references contained within the post remain with the post and please do not take chunks out of context. Preference is definitely for the whole post to be shared rather than pieces.
It is critical that you know what you want when you give your dog a cue/command/request.
For instance: If you ask many people what they expect from their dog when they call their name the response you get will be something like 'pay attention'. But what do they mean by that? I can type, read and still pay attention to what someone is saying or doing nearby without looking at them or changing my behaviour in any way. Surely that's not what they mean? It usually isn't - instead they might mean that when they say 'Rover' that they expect Rover to do one of the following:
- glance at them
- turn and look at them
- stop immediately what he is doing and listen for the next cue return to them.
Only if you really know what you mean can you ensure that your dog know's it too and that they continue to respond in the way you want. If you're all over the place expecting one thing one day and something else the next what hope does your poor dog have of understanding you and therefore pleasing you. So when something is going wrong turn the focus back on yourself first and check out what you are doing, what you expect the dog to do and whether you've been fairly consistently rewarding that behaviour in some way (praise, play, dinner, food, entry, exit, pat or whatever).
Following is a two part test. Part 1 is about you defining what you really mean by a series of commonly used cues. Part 2 is about checking whether you are currently getting this response from your dog/s.
Feel free to share your thoughts and even perhaps your results - or alternately keep them to yourself.
Test it out 1- Check your mind
Rember the importance of consistency - if the same rule doesn't apply every time then it isn't a rule. If the same performance isn't expected for a particular cue then it's not a really cue is it - you don't know what you want so how's the dog meant to get it?
With this in mind define what the following common cues mean to you for your dog/s.
Your dog's name
If you say your dog's name do you always expect them to:
Listen to you - yes or no?
Look at you - yes or no?
Stop what they are doing - yes or no?
Turn towards you - yes or no?
Come to you - yes or no?
React immediately, within a few seconds or what time?
Stay tuned into you until the next message or are they able to go back to what they are doing if you give no further response within a given timeframe (such as if you say their name while talking to other people)?
When you ask your dog to sit do you always expect them to:
Stop what they are doing immediately, within a few seconds or what time?
Sit where they are or move slightly (perhaps into the shade or away from the ant hill?
Sit evenly on both hips (like an obedience sit) or are they able to flop over on one hip for a more comfortable long term sit?
Sit with their bottom as close to the ground as it goes or can they sit up a bit?
Stay sitting until told to do something else or until released or stay sitting for a short period and then get up?
Do they have to look at you when they sit?
Do they have to face you when they sit or doesn't it matter where they are in relation to you?
When you call your dog to come do you always expect them to:
Stop what they are doing immediately or within a given timeframe (if so what timeframe)?
Run towards you at full pelt, lope, walk or any of the above depending on how they are feeling?
Sit in front of you or just come close enough for you to touch their collar?
Stay still while you put their lead on or touch their collar or can they wiggle around?
Should they drop whatever they had in their mouth or can they bring it with them?
Do they have to come straight or is a slight detour or arc okay?
What do you expect if another dog or person intercepts them? Should they politely say hello and then keep coming or ignore and come or is the come request cancelled?
It can be really handy to then do two things:
1. Give your written description to someone else to read and let them ask you questions or give you suggestions such as 'but what if..' or 'do you mean...?' This helps you get it clearer in your head just what you expect.
2. Have everyone in the household write down or at least discuss their interpretations. This way you can all try to agree on one set of rules and help keep it clear for your dog.
Test it out 2- Check current performance
Now that you have your 'doggy dictionary' of cues and their meanings it's time to check performance. Over the next few days ask your dog/s for each behaviour and note exactly how they respond and then compare it to your dictionary definition.
Then comes decision time. If there is a difference between what you wanted and what you got you can a) accept what you get and go on with life having modified your definition of that term or b) not accept the difference and work on changing the response to the behaviour that you want. As you can see simple words that we think of as simple cues or commands actually have quite complex meanings in a variety of situations. The clearer and more consistent you are about the behaviour you want the easier it is for you to teach your dog what is required and the simpler for them to 'get it' and consistently perform. More on some of the complexities of teaching your dog these behaviours (and others) to come in future posts.