I have another obedience class starting in a week and I was thinking about something that I often tell my students; I tell them that “less is more” in training. I say this because most people, early on in training, are all over the place with their communications. I prefer to see less body movement (especially from the hands), less intent looks, less frustration, and less talking. Less really is more because, otherwise, we confuse dogs.
We are going to talk about “body language” from a more complete perspective than usual, and we will include looks, voice and other noises, all movements, attitude, etc., in other words, the totality of your communication with your dog. Ask yourself, which type am I? Am I extremely sparse with my body language; barely giving a hint to my dog of what I like or don’t like? Or, am I all over the place; throwing multiple signals, knowingly or not, large and small, in all directions, all the time? Do I chatter nonstop so my dog comes to ignore me because I am always talking? Or, do I talk to my dog enough to let my dog know what I want? Am I always up in my attitude or, worse, always down? Are you one of those people who endlessly switches back and forth between the above options and more? Are you consistent in commands, using one word commands, giving the command once, and giving your dog an adequate chance to respond? Do you repeat your commands over and over, although the dog is barely responding or not responding at all? Are you consistent between your feelings and how you communicate with your dog?
If we are upset with a dog and say “good dog,” the dog is going to know we are not pleased. Much like a young child, it will probably sense our displeasure and, as a result, this will negatively impact its future responses. If this happens, one might see one’s dog start to throw off “calming signals,” or exhibit avoidance or displacement behaviors.
Every first time trainer is handicapped in one way or another in relation to training. The important thing is that we learn to make adjustments in our body language and approaches as necessary. It is critical that we are as clear, concise, and consistent with our instructions as humanly possible. If we like something, we need to make that clear. In addition to saying “good dog,” we need to make our body language consistent with being pleased. We need to change our voices slightly, going up slightly and sounding happy when the dog does something correct. If we are not pleased with a dog’s response, we need to keep our face neutral and voice normal. By the time one scowls at a dog, snarls out a forceful “no,” and physically corrects a dog, one has definitely gone into overkill and it will hurt your relationship with your dog and negatively impact your dog’s performance for some time. This is not a desirable result. A dog needs to understand that whatever he has chosen to do is or is not the option you would have chosen for him.
Remember: Your dog is a reflection of you and your training methods.