Communication Skills

In our training programs, we communicate with our dogs most often using sounds and touch. Sounds are broken down into markers, and commands. Touches include leash/collar pressure, touching with our hands, touching with objects, and touching with stimulation from a remote collar. Simply put, we are trying to connect signals, responses, and consequences reliably.

Markers

Markers are used when/after a dog does something. It's helpful to think of markers as serving two functions

  1. They take a "picture" of the behavior you are targeting

  2. They tell the dog what consequence is coming next

We use the following markers, each with a distinct meaning:

  • "Okay" or Click - You did the right thing, and can stop to get your reward. This is followed by some tangible consequence that the dog values. This is our “reward marker”.

  • "Out" - You did a bad thing, and punishment is forthcoming. This is followed by some tangible consequence your dog finds intolerable. This is our “punishment marker”.

  • "Wrong" - You made a mistake, try again or try something else. This is followed by nothing. This is our “no reward” marker

Praise and Petting

Praise and petting are acknowledgement and encouragement to your dog. They do not mean that they can stop doing something you've asked. It is important that we reserve specific signals that tell our dog “yes,” “no,” “stop,” and “go,” so that there is never any confusion about those actions. Praise and petting are too imprecise to serve that function, but are valuable social interaction between you and your dog. Many a dog has had trouble with stays because they think “good boy!” means “you’re done!”

Keep in mind that the way you praise and pet can affect your dog's behavior. So do your best to use them judiciously and productively. Additionally, use common sense. If you are away from your dog or you have asked them to do something which requires movement, use verbal praise. If you are near enough to your dog to touch them and they are stationary, use praise or petting, or both. 

Pressure and Release

If we only utilize rewards in our training, our dog will only do what is asked when they feel like it, or the reward we have to offer is more important to them than whatever else is going on around them. At some point we will need to compel behavior rather than simply wait for the dog to “feel like it”. In those cases we will apply physical pressure to them to motivate them to do what we want. When we do so, we are looking to use as much pressure as necessary, and as little as possible, to get compliance. When they do whatever we asked, we release that pressure. Pressure is applied through the use of physical touch or a dynamic training collar, and the removal of pressure communicates that the dog has made a good choice or completed a desired action.

Commands

Commands are used to tell the dog to do something. This is the standard list of commands that we use.

  • Name - stop, look, listen

  • Here - come towards me and sit directly in front of me looking me in the face

  • Heel - walk on a loose leash with your head in line with my leg

  • Sit - sit with your backside firmly on the ground

  • Down - lay down with your elbows and belly touching the ground

  • Kennel - climb on or in an object

  • Leave It - ignore something and do not make contact with it

  • Out - stop making contact with something

  • Off - four paws on the floor

  • Quiet - be quiet

It’s important to remember that we are not teaching these skills as circus tricks. We are teaching them as cues for the dog to be responsible for completing or maintaining an action. So “heel” should tell your dog to walk at your side and don’t lunge at dogs or people, don’t sniff the ground excessively, and don’t stop to mark every tree or bush we pass. Our dog doesn’t know “heel” until they know, clearly, what it means and what it does not mean.