Dog Training – Do Words Matter?

by Mary Haight on October 31, 2011

When Kelly Gorman Dunbar started her interview with Dr. Roger Abrantes ,dog training an expert dog trainer, and scientist in the field of evolutionary biology and ethology, on communication asking “do words matter” I was so excited!  Words carry emotion, tone, intent, they determine  the success or failure of conveying your ideas, your objectives and goals.  And yes, this applies to relationships built with each other,  but are also key to building a strong bond with your dog.

This is not an intellectual exercise, it’s  a wake-up call. The words you choose color and shape your  approach to dog training, problem-solving, and finding the most effective way to communicate to achieve desired results.

Abrantes said from the scientific point of view, precision is important in communications…we can convey the wrong message, misunderstand connotations, lose nuance. Without common definitions, communications fail.

Words Matter: Command, Signal, Obey

“Command”, as the interview pointed out, is very militaristic and implies absolute obedience. “Signal”  conveys more of a bridge building exercise than “command” and “obey.” Signal implies cooperation.  As to “obey”, many of us erased that word from marriage vows decades ago, why keep it in dog training, what should be a cooperative learning exercise between you and your dog?  Words change the way we think, they incite attitudes, behaviors, and emotions. It’s important to understand the definition and range of meaning of a signal so when you teach the dog the signal is fully understood.

“Dogs cannot obey a command they do not understand” says Abrantes, “if you teach the dog to understand the signal and show the behavior” you don’t need commands.  He went on to explain, using teaching the “sit” signal as an example.  Keeping the butt on the ground until you give the dog another signal is a common problem.  Abrantes said that often the sit is not understood and the dog pops up, walks a little and sits again. Kelly interjected that’s when the trainer complains the dog does not obey, or a better description for obey might be ” produce the behavior.”

Leadership and Punishment

Abrantes continues the discussion with Kelly on the important definition of leadership and punishment, which ends up starkly illustrating how our  human characterizations of dogs’ behavior often causes needless disruptions in the bond we have with them.

This is one hot topic and an interview you do not want to miss! Listen at Animal Cafe.

Dr Abrantes will be on a speaking tour in the US  in 2012, with a current subject title of “The Brave New World of Dog Training: Science wth a Brain and a Heart.”  You can also find him on Facebook.

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