Value of the Jibber Jabber
Do your words hold any clout? When you speak does your dog listen? Often we humans expect our dogs to know what we are talking about even when we have not trained nor associated a meaning to a word. Yesterday when I was at the park with Luke; I shouted to him as he was running up ahead of me. "Luke; there is a LIZARD over here." He flew into action; his ears had gone up at the mere mention of his name. At this park; he listens and he knows that when I have something to say, it is worth listening to. The word LIZARD has huge clout; he will drop whatever he is doing when he hears it.
This is the type of listening that is very cool indeed. When you see a dog react this way to a simple phrase; you realize the importance of association. As a long time dog trainer I have heard this phrase many, many times "why doesn't he heel when I say heel?" Then I ask the all important question; "have you taught him what heel means?" The awkward pause; "nope." "My dog will not stay no matter what I do." "Have you taught your dog what stay means?" "What?"
Dogs need words that mean something; suggesting that if you shout a bunch of words at your dog you will either get a reaction or not depending on what those words mean to your dog. Are you simply walking along and yanking your dog into place shouting "HEEL," without having taught him that heel means to walk beside you? Dogs don't come with the preprogrammed understanding to the words. You must associate a meaning to each and every one. Sometimes we associate a meaning to a word without consciously doing so.
When you start to educate your dog to the meaning of words; you will get a huge variety of reactions. Some words will have high value (clout) responses; some will get a reaction but nothing to write home about and other words will hold meaning but elicit a neutral response. Value, value, value: relative worth, merit, or importance. If you want a big time response you have to put high value on a word. One word that I have put a very high value on is "Here" This is my second and more valuable word for come. Come is commonly used far too often and the value can wane. So I have trained a recall response to the word "here." This word is not overused thus it retains its value and can be pulled upon when I require a quick response.
Anytime you end fun or introduce a negative activity in association with a word you devalue the word itself. My word for leaving an off leash area is "leash on." It does not get an ears up and running to me response; instead I get an "alright; fine, whatever" response, which is all I require.
Sure there are lots of times when I am simply yakking to my dogs. Perhaps the conversation is about our daily activities; my dogs enjoy listening to my ramblings. Speaking to your dogs is very important in the whole learning process. Try this; as you are discussing non value topics to your dog slip in a word that holds value. You immediately get an ears up "did I just hear what I think I heard" response. For us every word holds some sort of meaning; unless of course you have never heard a particular word before. But for dogs; there are very specific words in their vocabulary that mean something to them. With time and effort you can teach your dog many more words than they would normally learn in an average lifespan which
Dr. Stanley Coren says is an average of about 165 words. That is a total of trained, associated and accidentally learned words.
To teach your dog the meaning of words you must use repetition; the more repetition the faster the association. I am always teaching my dogs new words; and because of this it seems that they understand everything I am saying to them.
Some of my basic words are:
dinner or feed
Some preemptive phrases that hold high value in my home are these: What does? Who wants? What did? Is there? These are commonly followed by something good; so they hold a pretty high value when used.
The more words you teach your dog the easier it is to communicate with them. I have met dogs before who have had no education once so every; and when talking to them it is clear that words have no meaning to them. If you take the time to teach your dog the meaning of words you can then implement them throughout your daily life. I often use a "leave it" on a walk as we pass by a string of munching rabbits. Even off leash Luke will turn his head and keep on going, but if I do not use it then he is off and running. I used the trained word "catch" to implement a non aggressive response to other dogs while on leash. It was a great word to Luke; he loves catching and it started a good association to dogs walking by who were had a threatening posture.
Words are great; what new word are you going to teach your dog today?