In dog training, you’ll often be told to say nothing. And I don’t mind that. People talk too much, I know that, I definitely talk too much, and our mindless babble can easily confuse, distract or distress a dog who is trying to THINK!
But then we might also get told to manipulate the dog with the leash, to tug him this way or that, to give him a pop if he starts heading in the wrong direction. And that’s not saying nothing! It’s better to use your words.
One reason people tell you to “say nothing” is because otherwise we might say words that are not conditioned cues, that are not providing clear information, that distract the dog. All good points, but don’t think that physical force has greater clarity, because it doesn’t.
I’ve trained verbal directional cues for two decades, mostly with my water dog Tigerlily. Once, we dropped her off the boat into moving water to retrieve a sinking much-loved baseball cap. We were cheered as she responded to my verbal cues, which were probably something like this: “Oopsie! Uh oh! Turn! Yay! Circle circle circle! Good girl! Get it! Yay!! Yay!” and she dove and saved it just as it started to sink.
When dogs know what they are doing, of course we want to say little and stay out of their way.
But when we can give the dog useful information (I knew where the cap was sinking), it’s nice to be able to tell her. Also in the clip above, if I said nothing my dog would be wolfing down the rotten grass compost my husband helpfully spread yesterday.
When we positively condition response and meaning to each one of these words, I can use verbal cues, not manhandling, to motivate my dog.
All animals seek information. Verbal cues can be like little hotdogs of information. Not that way, but this way? Yes? This way! Yay! Yay! Yay! I’ve got it!!!” Responding even to the “no reward marks” are associated with a big win!
Videotape trials and examine body language and words. What untrained or confusing signals do we see? Does the dog cringe or deflate, or hit their stride with greater confidence? Verbal cues can be used to increase drive and joy, as well as potential for success, in both handler and dog.