You’ve done your homework, trained your dog “exactly” the way the instructor told you to and yet, his responses to you are spotty at best. You call him stubborn, stupid, and a bunch of other not-so-nice names as you throw the dog training handbook out the window and decide you have the World’s only “untrainable” dog.
But did you know, YOU could be the reason your dog is not responding a hundred, ninety, even seventy percent of the time?
What you need is Clean Training.
What is Clean Training?
Clean training means you are only giving one, clear signal to your dog, absent of any other little “tells” that your dog is using (usually without your knowledge) to help him respond to a cue.
Here’s a simple example. You ask your dog to “down” (lie down with belly on the floor) and as you do, you also bend your body ever so slightly forward. It is human nature, most of us do it.
However, then the trainer comes up and asks your dog to “down” with no movement whatsoever (they’re irritating like that). Your dog doesn’t do it. He asks you to try asking your dog to lie down with no movement. Your dog doesn’t do it this time for you either.
What does this mean?
This means your dog has learned that the cue for down is you leaning slightly forward NOT the verbal command.
How To Fix It
The good news, is that with a little bit of work you can fix the problem. You have to start fading all your extra “tells” until your dog learns which cue you want him to know.
For example, in our situation above, you start by saying “down” first, followed by the cue your dog already knows (moving your body). You will gradually start moving your body less and less, until your dog responds to the Down cue without any movement at all.
Common Extra Signals and Solutions
For the following, you can do the same fading exercise that is outlined above.
- Body movement (leaning forward, bending down, etc)
- Hand and arm signals
- Eye Movement
- Head turning
- luring with treat
For the next few, these are signals to your dog that you are “working” i.e. “it’s time to train, so I will listen to her because she has the food, toys, etc.”
In these cases, you will have to work on gradually removing these items from your person.
For example, with the treat pouch, you may start by having it right next you on the floor or on a chair. Then maybe a few feet away, then in the next room, etc.
- Treats or treat pouch on person
- Toys on person
- Clicker in hand (can fade by starting to use a verbal marker such as yes or good)
These last few have to do with location or equipment “signals.” For example, if you have only ever trained your dog on-leash, you may have trouble getting him to respond off-leash. You will have to fade the leash by first having him drag it, then maybe by you holding the leash but nto clipping onto your dog and so forth.
- Training in the living room every day (time to situation locations!)
- Always train on a certain rug
If you are unsure about what your extra signals are, video tape yourself and then watch it. Pay attention to WHEN your dog responds to you. You may be surprised at what your dog is actually responding to other than your voice.
About the Author
Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.
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