All Aboard: Why Getting the Whole Family Involved in Training will Help Fido Learn
So you get a new dog and you spend tons of effort in training classes, maybe tons of money, definitely tons of time. You’re thrilled because it’s all beginning to pay off. Your new dog is well behaved and chock-full-of crowd pleasing tricks. There’s only one problem… your dog only listens to you. Every other family member gets crickets and blank stares when they ask Fido to sit, stay or roll-over. All of your hard work seems to come unglued around other family members. Sound familiar? Or, are you one of the family members Fido ignores? Read on to find out why our dogs seem to respect some of us and ignore others.
Dogs are inherently pack animals. They look to a leader and find comfort in guidance. A clear, strong willed parent ensures the safety of the pack and puts your dog at ease. If you’re the family member that fits more of the playmate over parent model it doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t respect you, but it does mean that your dog isn’t quite sure where you fit in the pecking order. In nature, dominance establishes order. In our homes, dominance is not necessary to rise the ranks. Instead of dominance, use positive reinforcement, consistency and clarity to help your dog better understand what you want.
Our dogs don’t speak English (or any language other than dog) so it’s important to remember that when training a dog a new trick, you are also teaching them a new language. When learning a new language, consistency is key, accents are tricky and tone of voice is the easiest way to determine the context of a word. If one family member teaches Fido that “sit!” means tuck your bum under, sit up straight, look at me and receive a treat as a reward, Fido will get the hang of “sit!” in no time. If the next family member approaches Fido and says “sit, sit, sit!” Fido will be drawing a blank: “What does ‘sit, sit, sit’ mean? I learned ‘sit,’ not ‘sit, sit, sit.’ Is that a new word?” The next family member walks up, frustrated that Fido didn’t listen the first time and says “sit” in a deep, brooding tone. Fido understands the command but doesn’t understand why it sounds like they’re getting in trouble: “What did I do wrong?”
You can see how this situation can quickly and easily become very confusing for your dog. To help your dog understand every family member, have a team meeting and discuss the importance of using one consistent word with a happy tone of voice when trying to teach or practice tricks with Fido. If mom says “sit!” when talking to Fido, everyone should say “sit!” when talking to Fido.
Remember that everyone and every creature makes mistakes, it’s ok! If a family member asks Fido to “sit!” (just the way you practiced) and he/she stares blankly back at them, instead of repeating the command and confusing the dog, instruct them to take a treat between their fingers, hold onto it nice and tight and put it in front of Fido’s nose until he catches the scent and starts following their fingers. Next, sweep their fingers from Fido’s nose all the way up to their eye and say “sit!” The motion of looking upward will likely get Fido to tuck his bum, remember what he’s learned and take a seat. Give him the treat, say “good sit!” and celebrate your successful training session with your family members! Keeping sessions short, successful and fun is a great way to convince the whole family to join and to keep Fido engaged and happy. Being consistent and clear is the best way to teach Fido a new language and a host of cool new tricks.
Curious to know if your dog sees you as a parent or a playmate? Take our ComPETibility quiz to find out what kind of pet parent you are.
Give a Dog a Tone
Using happy tones to teach dogs tricks and deep, brooding tones to teach our dogs what they are not allowed to do eg. "off", "leave it", "no jumping" is a great way to help our dogs understand the context of their behavior even if they haven't fully grasped the command word yet.