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Say Less. Get Your Dog to Listen More.

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August 04, 2010

Say Less. Get Your Dog to Listen More.

By David DiBenedetto

One of the many things I’ve learned from professional dog trainers is the use of fewer commands to get more done. Call it command economy. Here’s an example:

For most amateur retriever trainers, Sit means Sit but does not mean Stay. We use the Stay command to keep our dog sitting. But think about it: If you teach your dog to sit he should keep his rump on the ground until you tell him it’s okay to move. It makes perfect sense. Why fool with Stay? (Some of you bird doggers might want to chime in about the use of Whoa.)

The same goes with the Fetch command. For decades Fetch and Hold were used in the force-fetch training process. These days most trainers just say Fetch. It means pick up the object and hold it until I command Drop. (That’s Pritch working on her Fetch in the photo here.)

I’m curious if any of you have noticed this trend or are already working with fewer commands? If not, give it a try. Eliminating a few commands may make it easier on you and your dog.

Comments (11)

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from Bookie12 wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

Dave good post. My trainer stresses the "silent treatment". Meaning he only teaches a couple commands (whoa, here, a couple obediance commands) and expects that the rest will just become 2nd nature. He also eliminates all "good dogs", "good boy", "ata-boys"....only a couple small strokes of the back as praise. He says yelling "good boy" at your dog only confuses them. Might as well make it easy for them to understand whats correct and whats not. The most effective thing that I have found is to teach the dog what they are supposed to do before even saying anything. I.E. I am working on Whoa training my dog now...we are about two months in and I am just now introducing the actual "Whoa" command. He has the action down, so adding the command will be a small association. Speaking the command too early in my opinion only confuses the dog more. Another thing Dave, that I remember you posted about way back in the day is saying the command once...and only once. Doing that from the start helps BIG TIME. Good post!!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave DiBenedetto wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

bookie12- Glad you like the post. And you've got a good memory. If anyone else wants to check it out, here's a link to the post about giving a command once and saying it like you mean it:

http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/hunting/2009/09/how-talk-your-dog—-pro

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from pinopolis wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

i agree with you (and the old saying): keep it simple, stupid.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sue Melus wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

Great post. I totally agree with" less is more" when it comes to dog training.

I still think it is important to have a conditioned reinforcer that is used as a marker for good behavior. The problem with Good boy, Atta boy, and Good dog is that they get thrown around a lot in "conversation" with dogs. The human voice is inconsistent and can get kind of messy when used in training. That is why I am a true convert to the clicker. Works like a charm to tell the dog the exact moment it performed the desired behavior.

I am clicker training my younger shorthair to retrieve and it has been much faster and more fun than when I force broke my older shorthair to retrieve. Never touched her or said a word to her and she was picking up and bringing me the object in three twenty minute sessions. Nothing against force fetch, but I have seen the difference with my own eyes.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from muddman wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I usually try to use just single words to do multiple tasks. Both Sit and fetch are great examples of this and I use both. I also use place which means place, sit and stay, and if Cooper has a dummy or a bird in his mouth it means place, sit stay and hold.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from muskiemaster wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

dave, should i use a training lead for those times during retrieving where my dog would rather take the dummy and go shake it to death and try to get me to chase her?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cosplay wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I usually try to use just single words to do multiple tasks. Both Sit and fetch are great examples of this and I use both. I also use place which means place, sit and stay, and if Cooper has a dummy or a bird in his mouth it means place, sit stay and hold.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I have always "talked" to my dogs. They learn countless commands and some are even short sentences. The tone of my voice means as much as the commands. But I spend a LOT of time with them. I'm not going for field trials but these dogs still get the job done just fine.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

Learning your dogs escapes from training can be as important as the commands.The head and body shake,high tail,tail in line with the body,tail tucked between the legs,and etc.the list goes even the good ones licking of the lips.All tips I got from a great trainer read the body language.This will help to know when he or she is loosing interest in the lesson or its sinking in.Hold was taught before fetch the command hold stops shaking of anything bird,dummy,etc. He retrieves on three commands,fetch,the whistle,and Magnum.The whistle works great when he is way out in the field with a cast for blinds(beats yelling anytime),his name is great in the blind with the guys and other dogs,and fetch is a great reminder of the conditioned retrieve when his body language tells he is loosing interest.This works for us.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

And of course my dogs favorite the yawn!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from PAShooter wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I occasionally hunt my dog with other dogs and hunters, it amazes me how often they are talking and shouting to their dogs. I consider it a good day when I need to give very few commands to my dog. She naturally knows my hunting style and little direction is needed. My last Brittany could hunt all day with me giving her only hand signals. I often would spot a "sneaking" bird that would come toward me not knowing I was there because of my silence.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

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from Bookie12 wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

Dave good post. My trainer stresses the "silent treatment". Meaning he only teaches a couple commands (whoa, here, a couple obediance commands) and expects that the rest will just become 2nd nature. He also eliminates all "good dogs", "good boy", "ata-boys"....only a couple small strokes of the back as praise. He says yelling "good boy" at your dog only confuses them. Might as well make it easy for them to understand whats correct and whats not. The most effective thing that I have found is to teach the dog what they are supposed to do before even saying anything. I.E. I am working on Whoa training my dog now...we are about two months in and I am just now introducing the actual "Whoa" command. He has the action down, so adding the command will be a small association. Speaking the command too early in my opinion only confuses the dog more. Another thing Dave, that I remember you posted about way back in the day is saying the command once...and only once. Doing that from the start helps BIG TIME. Good post!!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave DiBenedetto wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

bookie12- Glad you like the post. And you've got a good memory. If anyone else wants to check it out, here's a link to the post about giving a command once and saying it like you mean it:

http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/hunting/2009/09/how-talk-your-dog—-pro

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from pinopolis wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

i agree with you (and the old saying): keep it simple, stupid.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sue Melus wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

Great post. I totally agree with" less is more" when it comes to dog training.

I still think it is important to have a conditioned reinforcer that is used as a marker for good behavior. The problem with Good boy, Atta boy, and Good dog is that they get thrown around a lot in "conversation" with dogs. The human voice is inconsistent and can get kind of messy when used in training. That is why I am a true convert to the clicker. Works like a charm to tell the dog the exact moment it performed the desired behavior.

I am clicker training my younger shorthair to retrieve and it has been much faster and more fun than when I force broke my older shorthair to retrieve. Never touched her or said a word to her and she was picking up and bringing me the object in three twenty minute sessions. Nothing against force fetch, but I have seen the difference with my own eyes.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from PAShooter wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I occasionally hunt my dog with other dogs and hunters, it amazes me how often they are talking and shouting to their dogs. I consider it a good day when I need to give very few commands to my dog. She naturally knows my hunting style and little direction is needed. My last Brittany could hunt all day with me giving her only hand signals. I often would spot a "sneaking" bird that would come toward me not knowing I was there because of my silence.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from muddman wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I usually try to use just single words to do multiple tasks. Both Sit and fetch are great examples of this and I use both. I also use place which means place, sit and stay, and if Cooper has a dummy or a bird in his mouth it means place, sit stay and hold.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from muskiemaster wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

dave, should i use a training lead for those times during retrieving where my dog would rather take the dummy and go shake it to death and try to get me to chase her?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cosplay wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I usually try to use just single words to do multiple tasks. Both Sit and fetch are great examples of this and I use both. I also use place which means place, sit and stay, and if Cooper has a dummy or a bird in his mouth it means place, sit stay and hold.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

I have always "talked" to my dogs. They learn countless commands and some are even short sentences. The tone of my voice means as much as the commands. But I spend a LOT of time with them. I'm not going for field trials but these dogs still get the job done just fine.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

Learning your dogs escapes from training can be as important as the commands.The head and body shake,high tail,tail in line with the body,tail tucked between the legs,and etc.the list goes even the good ones licking of the lips.All tips I got from a great trainer read the body language.This will help to know when he or she is loosing interest in the lesson or its sinking in.Hold was taught before fetch the command hold stops shaking of anything bird,dummy,etc. He retrieves on three commands,fetch,the whistle,and Magnum.The whistle works great when he is way out in the field with a cast for blinds(beats yelling anytime),his name is great in the blind with the guys and other dogs,and fetch is a great reminder of the conditioned retrieve when his body language tells he is loosing interest.This works for us.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

And of course my dogs favorite the yawn!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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