Our friend Jodi recently wrote on her “Heart Like a Dog” blog about how her Labrador retriever Sampson is trying to train her. I should say that Sampson has been sharing tips on “How to Train Your Human” (these are some fun posts that you should definitely read!). Sampson’s newest thing is to stop every so often on a walk and try to get his Mom to give him a treat. After reading the post, I commented that Luke has been doing the same thing a lot lately!
I wasn’t sure why Luke was doing this. Sometimes I think he might stop because he’s unsure of which way to go, or just unsure in general, as he can be sometimes. He might be looking to me for direction. Also, I like him to check in with me, so sometimes if he stops and looks at me, I will give him treats.
However, just recently, I came to a realization. (This is good news, because it means that it’s warmed up enough that we’ve been able to get out for more walks lately!)
Let me back up a bit. When training Luke to tricks or cues, I often use a clicker, but if it’s something that makes coordinating all that difficult (clicker training can be challenging for an uncoordinated person like me, but I try because Luke responds well to it), I’ll use a cue word, usually “yes”. But I also often find myself saying “good boy”, just out of habit, when Luke does something I want. It just comes out (I do it after the click or cue word, and often at the end of a training session when he gets some bonus treats. “You’re such a good boy!! Good job, buddy!!”).
What I noticed when we were out walking was that if he did something I wanted, such as slowing down when I asked, or going the direction I wanted, out of habit I was saying “good boy”. No wonder he keeps turning to me for treats!
Now the trainer needs to train herself to stop saying “good boy” all the time, and only use it when I’m looking for him to pay specific attention to me. While I like to give him treats when we walk, especially if he follows a cue, I don’t want to have to do that every time.
I think overusing words is one of my worst training habits. I don’t know how many times I’ve ruined cue words for Luke. In the recall class we’re taking, we need to find a new word that we’ll be using for recall. I’ve already wrecked three possibilities: Luke’s name, “come”, and “here” (he still responds to all of those, but not all the time…that’s why we’re taking the class). If anyone has any suggestions on what else we can use, it would be greatly appreciated! A whistle was also suggested, has anyone tried that for recall?
I also wonder if it’s not so much what I’m saying, but the tone of voice I’m using. Luke hasn’t always been big on words. He responds more to gestures, and possibly my tone of voice. For instance, when I tell him to “stay”, he should stay until I use his “release” cue which means he can go. However, I’ve found that if I say anything at all when he’s in a stay, he considers me just speaking to him to be his release. I’ve had to learn to keep my hand out if I’m going to talk, so he’ll continue to stay. By the same token, if I tell him to come to me by saying “here” and holding my hand, palm out, by my side, then he will come. But that’s only going to work when he can see me.
Luke is the first dog I’ve done a lot of training beyond the basics with. It’s not just him that is learning new things every day. I have a feeling that Jodi has the right idea – Luke might be training me just as much as I’m training him, or at the very least, we are learning together. 🙂
Dogs are so observant, and that is something to always be aware of. Have you ever trained your dog to do something without meaning to?