Dogs are pretty smart and pick up significance and association with spoken words, our body language and environmental cues. However us humans sometimes do a great job at confusing the heck out of them, without us even realising it! For example, something I hear so much - asking our dogs to ‘sit down’. This typical expression when in the company of another human seems innocuous, but to a dog could be the reason why he or she just stands and looks at you bemused, or bounces up and down as if doing press-ups!
Let me explain why: one of the most basic commands which almost all owners teach to their dogs is ‘sit’. Great, super-easy! Most people can also ask their dog to lie down on their tummies. Now for those owners who have called this behaviour ‘down’, all well and good, but to the dog ‘sit’ and ‘down’ mean 2 entirely different things: ‘sit’ = bottom on the floor and ‘down’= tummy on the floor. So the owner who wants their dog to ‘sit’ but instructs Rover to ‘sit down’, as we do as humans to one another e.g. “oh hi Joe Bloggs, please come in and sit down”, really throws a spanner into the works as the dog usually does nothing, but look quizzically up the human as if they suddenly have two heads! (I bet they’re thinking, “Which do you want me to do, sit or down?”)
Us humans also babble a lot to our dogs – no problem with that – I talk to my dogs all the time, however in training dogs need clarity. The motto ‘Keep it Simple’ springs to mind here – I often work with owners who when asking their dogs to do something, are issuing an almost pleading spiel to them e.g. “Rover please will you sit”, or “sit for me please Rover”, or “you know how to do this, why aren’t you sitting”, or a repetitive “sit, sit, sit, sit, sit………” and so on!
Oh bless!!! All the time the dog is getting frustrated and likewise the owner!! When I ask them to take an imaginary step back and a deep breath and just calmly say the one word to the dog that he / she does know e.g. ‘sit’, - bingo!!! the dog’s bottom goes straight to the floor and their faces usually convey a sense of, “well why didn’t you just say that in the first place (Mum / Dad)!!??”
Another thing which can confuse our dogs, especially new puppies, is to be constantly hearing the word ‘no’ – one could be forgiven for wondering if some dogs actually just think their name is ‘No’!!!
Similarly, expectations with the dog being asked to not touch something, or come away from something you don’t want them to have – I often teach this as ‘leave it’ with the connotation being that the dog never gets the thing you intend them to leave, (e.g. fast food wrappers on the ground, or something dangerous), but is instead rewarded from elsewhere for having the self-control to take their nose / interest away from it. Teaching this is easy, but the dog’s understanding can be so messed up with inconsistency, as I often catch owners proactively letting their dog help themselves to the food treat that they just told their dog to leave!! So an effective ‘leave it’ then becomes null and void before it even started!
So in keeping with the vein of this blog post, I shall also keep it simple and sign off now! Think about what you are asking your dog - your dog isn’t being naughty when he / she doesn’t do as you ask. It just simply could be down to what you are saying, or messing up the commands they know, inconsistency, or just simply saying too much!! ‘Keep it Simple’ and have fun folks!!