One of the most underutilized and at the same time extremely important elements of dog training is clarity. Human begins expect so much of our canine counterparts that we quickly assume they fully understand all of our directions, often long before they do. Even worse, from time to time we are all guilty of switching up the hints we give dogs like our body language, tone, and eye movement. To achieve a relationship built on trust and understanding, clarity is incredibly important.
So let’s clarify just what I mean by clarity! Before you teach your dog any command or expected behavior, it’s important to sit down and think about exactly what you want the command or rules to be, how you will enforce it, and what hints will go along with it. For example, when you teach a command as simple a sit you should consider the following questions:
- What qualifies as a sit? (rear end touching the ground)
- When is the sit over? (is there an automatic stay with a release word?)
- How quickly must the dog respond to the sit command?
- What non verbal cues will be given for the sit command? (hand signals?)
As a trainer, I attempt to answer these questions prior to starting any dog’s training. Dogs learn that I consistently expect them to respond to a sit command and hand signal within 2 seconds of hearing it, that they must have their rear end all the way on the ground, and that they may not get up until they hear a release word like “free.” Being clear from the get go also means that I can be consistent and fair from the first step in the training program to the final step.
In the same way that I seek to provide clarity to dogs I am training with obedience positions, being clear with house rules and manners expectations is just as critical. Sit down as a family and discuss what the dogs’ rules are going to be and how they will be enforced. Don’t forget to get specific! It’s not enough to simply say, “he’s not allowed to run out the front door,” for example. It’s better to say, “As soon as his toe nail crosses this spot on the door, he has broken the rule and will receive a verbal correction.” Make sure that everyone consistently enforces the same rule, uses the same release word, and even similar body language so that the rule and enforcement is crystal clear!
Because dogs are such willing participants, it’s easy to assume that they know exactly what we are asking for, even when they don’t. Always work to be as clear as possible, even when you’re sure your exceptionally bright dog knows your every thought! There is no downside to clarity and you may be surprised at how much your dog is guessing at. Don’t leave your dog’s training to chance. Have a well thought out and consistently enforced plan to promote clarity and a team like relationship.