Talk Like a Dog

Do you talk to your dog? I hope so. It's good for both of you. Although, if you’re trying to change your dog's behaviour or to train it, you have to be able to talk in its language.

Many doggy folks have great difficulty in getting their dogs to do simple things and usually, it’s because they are not using the right type of voice and the right type of words.

If you are trying to change a dog’s behaviour, you will need to have three different voices in your armoury. Here are those three magic methods.

The 'Good Dog' Voice

The first voice is the most important and it should be the most common voice you use. It is the praising ‘Good Dog’ voice. It is a high-pitched, happy and excited voice. Whenever your dog does something good, this voice is the reward that he or she should receive - along with pats, cuddles and kisses too, of course!

The Commanding Voice

The second voice is the commanding voice. This is a voice of gentle authority that you should use whenever you want your dog to do something. You don’t need to yell at a dog to get it to do normal tasks so this voice is not a hard and harsh Sergeant-Major voice. This voice is used with commands such as 'SIT', 'COME', 'STAY' and, with that powerful command 'LEAVE'.

However, when using the commanding voice to get your dog to perform a task, don’t use a long sentence of words. For instance, if you want your dog to sit, just say 'SIT'. Don’t narrate the Gettysburg address.

It is important that you don't repeat your commands more than twice. If you repeat your commands over and over again, you are only training your dog to ignore you and that you don't expect a response. Your commands just become wallpaper and background noise.

You should always pause after issuing a command and before praising your dog. The pause is important. It causes the healing, the therapy, and the learning. It is a test of who is in control - you or your dog. Mostly I advise my clients to wait for at least five seconds after a dog responds to a command before the praise is given.

For instance, after commanding 'SIT', if the dog sits for five seconds then you have definitely achieved your goal and the praise is justified. However, if your dog does not sit for five seconds, it is still in control and you need to issue the command again. This time, though, be sure your dog cannot refuse again by placing it gently in the "sit" position and holding it there for five seconds.

The 'Bad Dog' Voice

The last voice is the one you should use least. It is the 'Bad Dog' voice. I describe this as a 'bullet to the ear' voice. Usually, it is loud, instantaneous, dark and mean, but it doesn't physically hurt. Soften your voice a little if your dog is nervous, fearful or timid.

Many dog owners and trainers will use the words 'NO' or 'BAD DOG' or 'BAH' to stop a bad behaviour.

You should use your 'Bad Dog' voice for punishing your pooch if it has done something wrong. However, here we have an important matter.

Punishment of any sort is rarely effective if it is used on its own - it confuses dogs and does not show them what they should be doing. While 'NO' or 'BAD DOG' or 'BAH' will work in many cases, such words can only be used as punishers and not as commands - and that's a disadvantage. Your goal is to eliminate the use of such words.

You should only use this voice to distract your dog and interrupt an unwanted behaviour while it is in progress. Once distracted, you can then get poochy to do something else which is more appropriate and that you can reward. This is also known as redirection and is the essence of another technique I call the 'Bad Dog - Good Dog Routine'.

Final Words of Wisdom

If you find you are using a punishing voice often, consult your vet for advice because this shows your strategies are not working and you will be delighted at how pulsed, reward-based training creates exact behaviour change more rapidly and effectively than punishment.

Don't forget to hug your pet!!

By Dr Cam Day BVSc - Last updated 1 May 2017

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