Voice Control and “No”

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Voice Control and “No”
I once read an article by Gary Wilkes in which he asks, “If I sneaked up behind you and want to whack you behind the head, would you want me to say, “Duck”….
1) Before I hit you
2) As I hit you
3) After I hit you
One should not have any difficulty in deciding that Option 1) is the correct one because only if the answer is “Duck” BEFORE you get whacked that you can use the verbal information to get out of the way or change your behaviour.

But this is not what is happening when dogs are being trained. Mostly I see handlers applying options 2 and 3. They jerk the leash and then say “No” (Option 3) or jerk the leash as they say “No.” (Option 2) Both options do not leave the dog with any chance to change its behaviour or to avoid a leash correction. This amounts to abuse and over time the dog will become unmotivated and even fearful.

When this happens the dog has no clue why it is being corrected and “No” is pretty meaningless to a dog in the beginning of training. What is happening is that because the leash correction comes first the dog is being taught to react to the leash and not to the handler’s voice which is making a sound the dog does not understand. Sit, Stand, Down, Come, Watch me, heel, hop (jump) etc. are commands we teach dogs but, “No” is what? You cannot teach “No” like you would teach Sit. It is a word you can only use when your dog has misbehaved or made a mistake. A word often associated with unpleasantness and anger accompanied by a leash correction or a puppy being grabbed by the scruff of its neck and shaken to stop mouthing. “No” is also a word that is likely to be associated with punishment by the handler.

A young child may soon understand what “No” means if the parent does not want him/her to do or take something but for a dog it is just blah, blah, blah. Over time, however, the voice intonation of the owner may begin to have some meaning- I have done something wrong!

Commands are words that usually will end in some form of a reward if obeyed. I am not sure why “No” would be rewarded.

I regularly come across cases where the owners have been shouting “No” to their dog for jumping up. Dogs do not know the difference between positive and negative attention. To shout “No” in this case is giving attention, albeit negative, but that’s why the jumping up continues. And having repeatedly said “No, no, no” has made the word more meaningless to the dog. The word is over-used and since it has little meaning to a dog it will be ignored.
You cannot expect a dog to react to something it has not been taught before. No does not teach a dog what to do. However, I do include the word “No” in my training but I link it to a command.

When teaching a reliable Sit, I give a “Sit” command and with my dog in the Heel position on my left, I take a small step to the side away from the dog. If the dog tries to move towards me I immediately say, “No, Sit” and use my legs and hip to push the dog back to the original starting position. After many repeats and further steps to obtain reliable sits to the side I do the same in front from a Present Position in front of the dog. Now I take a small step backwards and stop any forward movement by the dog to come to me, with a body block back to the original position and a “No Sit” command. “No” is only used before telling the dog what is the correct action.

Properly done a handler soon gets to a position when you can take the leash in the left hand, give a “Sit” command and gently tug on the leash in your direction. Any forward movement is stopped as before with a “No Sit.” After a few repeats the leash can be dropped and the handler can move further back while the dog sits reliably. The dog now learns to obey the handler’s voice and NOT the leash pulling. This I find is a good beginning to get Voice control over the dogs we train.

When calling your dog from a sitting position, in front of you, make sure to hold the leash with just enough slack so that the dog is not aware of any pulling. Call “Come” with a very happy voice and wait a second for a forward reaction from the dog to your voice before popping on the leash. Much praise and a jackpot are needed when your dog reacts to your voice and not to the leash.

The dog’s willingness to obey you and react to your voice, even out of sight, largely depends on the trust established between the two of you. How you speak to your dog, the tone when giving commands or praise will determine how successful you shall be. Always allow an opportunity, no matter how short for your dog to react to your voice before any form of correction.

When I command my dog to “Heel,” I expect perfection. So, if the dog is not sitting correctly, I simply repeat, “No Heel” until the dog sits correctly. Sometimes I have to repeat it three times. No leash correction is needed and I patiently wait for my dog to find the correct position he was taught. Handlers using options 2 or 3 above do not expect voice control and therefore overdo leash control. You will be surprised to find how soon dogs master voice control if they are only given the training and opportunity to avoid unnecessary leash corrections.

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