The main reason that dogs struggle with vocal commands is that they communicate mainly with body language, then scent, then voice. When you consider this on top of how difficult it can be even for human beings to understand a new language it can really help you appreciate how smart dogs must be to figure out our babbling at all.
What is it like to be a dog in training?
Try watching a video in a language you don’t understand, no subtitles. Can you follow their instructions or the philosophy they are explaining? Do you even know where one word ends, and another begins? If you’ve ever taken a language class and then tried to understand a fluent speaker you are probably familiar with the feeling of not recognizing words you “know” when spoken quickly or in a different tone. You may be able to follow a cooking video in French but that doesn’t mean you will now be able to follow a French cooking show on the radio.
Do you see how many different words and phrases are being used to tell Sparky to “lie down” in the picture? The word “down” is also used for “get off the couch”, “sit down”, “Stop jumping on the guests!”. All this is very confusing for most dogs, and they will often learn to ignore your words when they are this inconsistent.
Keep this in mind as you train your dog, and instead of wondering “Why is my dog so stubborn?” ask “Am I being clear and consistent with my dog?”.
What can I do
to help my dog understand my cues?
Consistent verbal cues:
For starters, try to make sure you are consistent in your verbal cues. Many trainers will use cues in other languages so that their dog will easily distinguish the cue from the normal chatter us humans like to do all day. Whatever words or sounds you choose, make sure they are clear and don’t sound anything like other cues.
Decide on a different body signal for each cue:
I personally like very large body signals, not only are they very clear to your dog close up but they can also help you communicate with your dog when you are beyond hearing range. I use one arm straight up in the air for “sit”, an arm sweeping down for a “lay down” and both arms open wide for “come” (or more like; “come leap into my arms”, something my dog finds very rewarding.)
Does this explain your dog’s “stobborn” behaviour?
If this article didn’t help you with the issues you are currently facing, try Tammy’s article Help! My Dog Doesn’t Listen To Me! as well as part 1 of the Is Your Dog Stubborn? series.
Have questions or comments? We’d love to answer them! Leave a comment below or email us!
By Nea Deptuch, Dog Trainer at Tammy’s Training Canine Services