Talking Too Much To Train The Dog

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by jtclough on June 24, 2010

Sometimes it takes silence for the real meaning to be heard.

Animals are such great teachers in so many ways.  As I went horse back riding this week it occurred to me once again how much we can learn by not talking so much.

This week we had the opportunity to go horseback riding at one of the coolest places ever.  Big Al’s Horse Ranch high in the mountains of Taos, NM finds so much of the beauty of being in nature on high trails, on top a horse with the wind blowing… wow.  That’s what I call getting out of it all and connecting with what one really wants out of life.  A bit of time to enjoy it.

… and a bit of time to reflect on my life with dogs and my role as a trainer for those who want a better relationship with their own dog.

Don’t Talk Too Much

Big Al is a master horsemen and very good at instructing even those who haven’t been on a real horse before how to connect with their horse for the day.  Such a big beautiful animal can be very gently guided on when to go, which way to turn, when to stop and wait and of course they like to hear a bit of “good boy” along the way too.

One of the things that struck me as a dog trainer was the statement in the midst of showing us how to communicate with our horses, “You don’t have to speak loud, keep your voice low so only your horse’s ears and you can hear what you are saying.  He’ll listen with good gentle guidance and by saying what you want once.”

Yep, exactly the mistake that so many make with dogs especially during the “training” times.  I know even the dog trainer here has been guilty of doing it.  Sit. Sit SIT, I Said Sit… Stay…. no.  SIT.  wait. no Sit, SIT, no, don’t, ok, sit…..  Sound familiar?

Umhhmmm… not a lot of patience going on, a lot of loud jibber jabber… and certainly no direction in between the many commands blurted out without any help in completing even the first one.  Simply sit.

We humans talk too much and spend very little time showing our dogs what we are trying to teach.  It is an urgent expectation for a concept, even if it is simple, to be picked up on and mastered immediately.  We have impatiently blurted several things out there over and over, with no real good explanation of what this word, series of words, or words being interchanged quickly are meant to mean.  What action goes with what word?

Quiet.  Training With Fewer Words.

The words of Big Al on our horseback ride brought me back to a session we had at the Pawsuit of Excellence a couple of years ago.  We had our professional trainers not talk to their dogs for an entire day.  Instead these dog experts showed their dogs what to do without words.

Guess what?

Frustration was quickly removed from the scene.  The dogs started really doing what they were shown how to do, and there was a lot more wagging from both the dogs and the humans.  Remove the idol chatter and real meaning speaks volumes.

Sometimes we humans just talk out of habit, or not knowing what else to do, or because we have not developed our own listening skills.

Less Words.  More Action.  Wag More.

My challenge for dog owners is to to try less idol chat with your dog when it comes to getting your dog to behave in those moments of expectation.  Things like walking or running beside you, holding a sit… which would be stay!  🙂  Not jumping up on you or anyone else.  All those little things that make your journey together really fun and pleasant on a daily basis.

As a side note, I do talk to my dogs, have conversations with them and that type of thing.  I do believe they pick up on emotion before anything else and many days they help me just deal.  This is not what I mean by “talking less”…

The weather is awesome, get out and have some fun with your dog.

Talk Less.

Wag More.

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1 Ark Lady June 25, 2010 at 11:24 am

Completely right–one of the things people tend to do is feel like they have to fill some type of void when they are with an animal–and chatter is exactly what makes them miss what is going on with the animal and what the animal is communicating.

2 Michael Burkey June 26, 2010 at 2:12 am

Thoughtful article Jt!

I think when we talk less we listen and notice our surroundings more. So it’s a win win, we are more clear to our dog as to what we want and we are able to better recognize and process the feedback our dogs give us as to their understanding or confusion regarding what we want of them.

3 HalleBalleDog June 30, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Good Job… it’s one of those things that we all overlook sometimes. Quiet and Patience isn’t always so obvious. Animals do much better with information when there’s less noise indeed! 🙂

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