Dog’s Eye View: I can hear you!
As a teenager, in my first group dog training class with my first dog, a male Dalmatian, I learned to yell at my dog. I think the word “command” was used a lot, as in, “command your dog to sit” or “command your dog to come.”
The adult male students in our class referred to our teacher as “Sergeant.” She was a brave lady to take on a room full (usually 20 or so) of adolescent and adult dogs with green owners. There was no discussion about canine learning and behavior. We just marched around in a large circle and responded to “forward,” “halt,” “sit your dog,” etc.
It was the volume and cacophony in the room that I remember. I’m not sure why we were taught that our dogs wouldn’t respond if we didn’t yell at them. Dogs have excellent hearing. You’ve probably noticed this when you try to pick up your car keys and sneak out of the house without him.
I do know that many of the early public dog training classes were based upon military dog training methods. This was 10 or so years after the end of WWII. Perhaps that’s where the drill sergeant style started.
It wasn’t until years later, when I happened to be standing next to a professional animal trainer, that I saw and understood the value of speaking softly. This man trained a famous cat for TV commercials. He also enlisted my husband and my first dog, a Siberian Husky, to feature in a commercial for power mowers.
What I noticed right off was that I couldn’t hear him speaking at all. I also noticed that his dogs watched him and listened intently to him. His voice was soft, and his reinforcement was high. He used treats. That was not too common in group classes in the 60s.
I’ve read that one reason people shout when they argue is that they feel they are not being heard or understood. Some people raise their voices when speaking to people from a foreign country who might not speak our language fluently. I think we tend to carry this over to dogs. Rather than try to reason why our dog doesn’t respond to us, we talk louder. By the way, “canine” is a foreign language. One of the great joys in learning how to teach a dog is learning how to read and respond to their language. This allows a two-way conversation.
Two books that will help you learn to speak “canine” are: “How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves” second edition, by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, and “On Talking Terms with Dogs – Calming Signals” second edition, by Turid Rugaas.
Let’s keep it down out there.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 25 years of experience. She can be reached at totalteamworktraining.com.
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