I was watching a friends dogs hanging out in her backyard and I kept hearing a neighbor over the fence say a phrase over and over and over again I was trying to figure out exactly what was going on. To me it sounded like pure gibberish but at the same point it was consistently the same phrase over and over and over again. Then there was quiet and then you’d hear it happen again. There was something that he was trying to communicate to the dog but the dog was not getting. So out of curiosity I walked over and peeked through the fence.
The owner was trying to teach one of his St. Bernard’s puppies to “shake.” This dog owner currently has two St. Bernard puppies which hang out primarily in the backyard or in the house and probably have never seen pavement other than maybe to go to the vet. They are approximately about 5/6 months old and they’re beautiful boys.
So I’m watching him stand in front of one of the puppies and repeatedly saying the phrase for “shake” while extending his hand out. The puppy was looking at him going “I’m sorry, I don’t get it what are you saying but why don’t you just give me the treat.” After repeating the phrase about five or six times and the owner extending his hand, the pup finally would give him his paw. The pup would get a treat. The owner then would repeat the phrase over and over and over again for about six times to then try to get the puppy to lift his paw and then give him a treat.
There was a repetition in training today. If one was barking he would say their name and stop, say their name again and stop, then say his name again and stop. He would repeat this for five times until the puppy would stop barking.
I see this all the time in classes and also in private training. We repeat without even thinking about it. We as humans understand how to talk to each other, but we really have no clue how to communicate in dog language. So we try what we know which is talking to them in English or whatever language your ethnicity caters to, and we hope for the best. Human nature is we expect that if we say it enough times that the dog will get what we’re saying. Keep in mind we know exactly what we want the dog to do, but we don’t always know how to communicate this. You know that you want the dog to sit and put their butt down so if you just keep saying the word “sit” enough, they’ll put their butt down and then you treat hoping for the same result next time.
The first problem with this concept is that the puppy is actually being trained to do it after he says it FIVE OR SIX TIMES versus just the first time. So at this point the owner doesn’t get that he’s going to end up having to say it five or six times because that’s what the training session included. His focus is the fact that the puppy did it.
The second issue with what he was doing is that he’s TEACHING A SAINT BERNARD TO SHAKE… this can have a disastrous effect later on when the puppy wants attention and comes up and punches you in the face with his paw and looks at you adoringly saying you taught me to do this right ? A past client who has a St. Bernard chose not to teach shake because they didn’t want their dog constantly punching them in the face which is very smart.
When people think about training, they train what is fun versus what is practical. I saw the owner of the St. Bernard’s face when the dog brought up his paw. He truly did feel that he accomplished something pretty awesome. He wasn’t thinking about long term. Teaching a dog to shake is definitely a fun parlor trick and something that you can show off to friends. Teaching dogs to sit pretty, spin or roll over makes a dog look extremely smart. Teaching your dog tricks is a very good way to stimulate their minds and to challenge them mentally, however, as a trainer I think about life saving commands that are incredibly important such as “Coming when Called.” Other commands that benefit a dogs forward motion is the word “Stay” or having them “wait at the door way” so that they don’t rush out, Learning how to “walk on leash” and teaching them “leave it” so they don’t eat that dead rabbit are also important for a dog to know.
“Shake” is much more exciting than the command “Stay.” Of course when your dog bolts out the front door and wants to run across the street with a car coming if you ask it to “shake” that’s gonna be the last command it does before it gets hit by the car and did not save it’s life. Owners need to realize that those parlor tricks are great for bonding time and when the dog id bored, but they need to think practically to save the dogs life.
If you have a hunting dog and you’re doing it because you want to win a trial, an agility dog and you’re doing it because you want to win a run or even a dog where you’re competing in obedience practical makes sense. As a typical owner, those basic practical commands don’t make sense until their dog almost gets hit by a car or runs away from them and isn’t listening. Then suddenly, IT NEEDS TO LISTEN!
The summary of my blog today is understanding that you need to do a little bit of both. As children we start out in school learning all of the practical things and important things that we need to know in order to survive every day life. It’s boring, we don’t feel like doing it however we are forced to do it and we learn to do it as a regular basis. Teachers do throw in fun things like recess, craft projects or sports to help keep us stimulated and having fun. Overall, we still have to do those practical things every day. We have to sit nicely in our seats, we have to listen to what they’re teaching that day and we have to play nice with others otherwise we DON’T get to sit with the kids at lunch and we DON’T get to participate in recess. Our parents see the value in sending us to school because it helps with our development. They are dropping us off and letting the professionals take over.
So really in the dog world if most owners could send their dogs to class in training from kindergarten through senior year and then have them for a summer and then send them off to college for another 4 to 5 years it probably would be more ideal because that’s how humans do it. By the time you are an adult, you are far easier to work with! Parents work with the kids every day and teach their kids how to respect them and act at home and in public when they go places however, the teaching is primarily done during the day for a period of eight hours. We learn how to listen, play well with others and use problem-solving skills while maturing at the same time.
Some dog owners will actually send their dogs away for training programs where the dog returns well behaved and in good control. However, the professionals do it. It also takes 6 months to a year and is EXPENSIVE!! If you choose to do it on your own it is going to take time and commitment! This is where classes are great and making the right choices is the best option! Start early, continue through adulthood and be happy!