Are we clear?
Over the many years that I have worked with dogs; things have become very clear for me. Knowing how dogs most easily learn; seeing through the issues and basically delivering a lesson which will be clearly understood by the dog. But as I watch others in their attempts to teach new behaviors or manipulate their dog in some way; clear is far from what I see. We humans tend to flail around as we strive to teach our dogs. We also have a tendency to grow frustrated quickly if our dog does not seem to "get" what we are teaching. The secret is to make it simple; get rid of the excess, creating a clearer picture.
Dogs communicate through body language and vocal sounds. The visual is far more important than vocal; sounds typically only come into play afterwards or if needed for impact. Touching has a huge interference effect when teaching; with each touch you remove your dog from it's current thought path. Let's say you are in the process of teaching the "down" behavior. You want your dog to lay down on your verbal cue. You lure them down with an object of food and as they start to go down you cannot help but touch their back. Your dog's attention is immediately on the touch; removing the brain from it's previous path, going down. Your dog instantly slips into the google effect of a touch and out of education mode.
Touch should be reserved for after the fact; a reward for completing an exercise, placed strategically after the lesson is learned. Touch has huge array of effects on dogs; from interference to over stimulation. Luke is very easily stimulated by touch and used during a training session can send him into an excited frenzy. Teaching should be touch free; saving touch as a reward used strategically as each individual dogs ability to handle it.
Movement is also a huge obstruction in learning. Have you ever seen a dog who can go through their paces with only hand signals? Pretty impressive eh? Well; dogs actually learn hand signals much quicker than the verbal cue, anyone can teach visual cues to their dog. In fact most dogs learn their own visual cues for just about everything we do. Ever go to reach for your running shoes and your dog is instantly excited? They know what running shoes mean and have come to watch for the slightest hand movement towards them. But; one of the biggest obstacles in learning is too much movement. With too many visual cues we confuse our dogs; leaving them in a fog. Arms flailing around; body movements, up and down, we are all over the place. You need to keep that simple as well; clear for your dog. If you signal your dog to come to you; typically a big "come to me" swooch of the arm, that's it, do not make any other movements if you want to send a clear message.
Our dogs are constantly watching us; they notice the most infantesimal visual cues. So when we attempt to communicate through visual cues alone we must again cut the clutter and simplify. Stop moving about; stop adding what we consider as training hints of arm and body motions. Adding extra movements to a visual cue just adds confusion. Take note of what you are doing with your body as you attempt to communicate with your dog. Simple, uncluttered, touchless communications are the way to a clear picture for your dog.