By Penny & Ed Cherubino
Imagine someone in authority talking to you and what you hear is “yadda, yadda, yadda,” IMPORTANT, “Blah blah blah …” or “LISTEN TO ME!” As far as your dog is concerned, you sound like a chattering chipmunk with an occasional word like “SIT!, GOOD GIRL!, or NO!” popping up here and there.
Now think about some of the best-trained, working dogs like herding sheepdogs, K-9 first responders, and real service dogs. These animals have learned behaviors requested with one word, sound, hand signal, or a combination of those.
What we can all learn from the professionals who train and work with these animals is to keep our directions short. And, since we know that dogs are sensitive to the tone of your voice, we suggest you also keep it sweet.
Lessons from the Pros
Sheepdog handlers use a combination of words and whistles to guide the herding work of their dogs. For example, the “Whee-Whee-Wheet” whistle sound or the word, “Come here” calls the dog to the shepherd’s side.
K-9 first responders are taught to obey commands, often in a foreign language, and only from their human partner. Each has a related hand signal in case silence is needed for safety. Specific signals might tell the dog to, “Search for a man,” “Search for an article,” or “Release the bite.”
Real service dogs learn about 30 basic one or two-word commands. Many of these are ones that would be great for any companion animal to master. For example, “Watch me” – to make eye contact, “Get busy” – to go to the bathroom, and “Release” – to be done with work.”
Listen to Yourself
What do you sound like when you ask your dog or cat to do something? Yes, there are times when a sudden irruption in barking or yowling will startle us, and our voice, when we correct the animal, is harsh.
However, you may actually achieve the result you want more often if you practice speaking to your animals in an upbeat manner with a smile punctuating your words. Since we’re the ones who select the command words, try to find words that are softer in sound and used less in the real world. We like the word “Hush!” instead of “Quiet,” or “Stop barking!”
The other trick we use is to give our dog a command she knows to distract her from unwanted behavior. You could try a bright and cheery, “Come here!” If those words are practiced consistently and sometimes resulted in a treat or nice ear scratch, you’ll increase your success rate.
Stanley Coren, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, estimates that “… dogs’ mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years.” He is quoted by the American Psychological Association as saying, “As for language, the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, and the “super dogs” (those in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words.”
When our first Westie Sassy worked at our company, the staff created a list of the words she knew. As the list grew, there were words we never used but that a particular staff member favored. We suggest this as a great family exercise. Once you have a list, simplify it where you can and see if you can reach an agreement on the short and sweet words you will use to guide your furry family members through well behaved days.
Do you have a question or topic for City Paws? Send an email to [email protected] with your request.