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Command Consistency In Puppy Training
Karen Rhodes, TheDogPlace.org Family Dog Consultant and SAAB Member
Have you ever tried to learn a new language? Imagine a dog learning to obey commands if the words are switched up each time you request a certain behavior.
I have had to recently reiterate the importance of using command consistency with my family members who are well meaning but whose commands are confusing to our new puppy. It is hard enough trying to get the four-month old puppy to obey their request but different words for the same thing make it a real challenge.
Giving multiple words as a command is not appropriate in teaching a new puppy to perform a trick or learn an item. The older dogs have it down pat. They know, “let’s go outside, c’mon” means it is time to go potty and play.
The puppy learns the cues I want him to remember by simplifying the command to “outside”.
Other examples confusing to a puppy or in training a new dog are when several words are paired together such as ”Here, come here, sit, over here, come on” all given at the same time when a simple, “here” or “come” or “stay” is sufficient to convey the request. There’s no consistency either.
Multiple commands given at one time generate frustration for a new dog as well as in attempting to teach an older dog a new command or word. You can judge the reception of command-desired behavior by counting the number of correct responses.
I hear a man in the neighborhood attempting to call his dog to come and most of the time, the dog does not respond in the desired manner. Again, there is no consistency in how he calls the dog. The owner’s command to come sounds like “Diesel, come, get over here” or “Diesel get over here right now” usually followed by “#** ^^ %, get over here, Diesel!!!”
Would you go to him? Loudness and anger with the dog isn’t the way to get him to come to the owner’s side. I’ve tried to model teaching or calling my dogs when we are both outside so my neighbor can hear the command, understand my tone of voice, and see that I occasionally reward with a treat.
My diplomatic efforts are to no avail. I guess training the neighbor is out.
Many animals such as horses, cats, dogs and even non-domestic creatures such as apes and raccoons, can learn an extensive vocabulary if given the chance and the words or commands are consistent. Our older dogs know about 75 to 90 words and phrases that are a part of their daily lives and on special occasions such as “boney bone” for the cherished marrow bone.
Pairing the command with hand gestures can be helpful especially if you are in an area where verbal communication isn’t easily heard. Clickers and whistles are often used when the pup completes a correct response to a command. It is the same as “good boy” when paired with praise and food. A clicker can be incorporated early in the training period or added if the owner desires to use them.
I find simplicity and consistency help a young dog learn more quickly, with an increase in desired outcomes if the trainer uses the same word, tone and prompt reward. Gradually fading out the treat as a primary reinforcement to a more natural reinforcer - you, your praise and approval.
Some dogs prefer to be trained in the same location but then moving to train in other places to helps adapt the animal to perform consistently in a variety of physical settings. Setting is important especially if the area is too busy, loud, uncomfortable or distracting. Try to keep the training site the same in the beginning.
Keep lessons short, sweet and give a treat and you will watch the youngster gain confidence in himself and in you as a trainer.
There are many books, articles, and videos available for learning basic dog training. My suggestion is to use the simplest method you can at first, keep the session fun and light and don’t forget the praise and the reward! Best of luck and most of all, have fun!
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