Updated: May 5
Whether an 8-week old puppy or a 4 year old rescue pup, building clear communication with your new family member is essential. The absolute first milestone, and all the steps that lead up to it, is teaching a dog their name.
Like I said, learning their name is the MILESTONE, a checkpoint. There are many steps in between that build the foundation of clear communication. It also teaches you, as a new owner, to learn what it means to "talk to your pet."
Before we get started there's few things to remember,
Dogs need an incentive to do something for you. Of course they love you and want to be with you, but they will not obey you for the "sake and righteousness of obedience" until they are much more mature in years. Just like us humans, if we are working and your spouse asks you to take out the trash, will you do it right away? or in a few minutes, when your more important task is finished? Ah- hah!
Whether you offer kibble, turkey meat, a new toy, or off-leash time, your pup will be motivated to listen and learn if they want something from you. From a young age these puppies need to experience that ALL THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE COME FROM YOU. Let me say that again, from the moment you bring your puppy/dog home, they need to understand that all the good things in life i.e. attention, food, playtime, come from the owner and not from their own efforts.
As well, remember that dogs DO NOT UNDERSTAND ENGLISH, or any human language. Keep this in mind when you are trying to communicate with your dog, think of them as a foreigner (or that you are the foreigner, either way works).
Choose your "yes" signal
Communicating with your dog is a lot like playing "hot & cold." Remember the game? You hide an object, let's say, under the couch. Your friend needs to find the object and walks around the house, guided only by your words, "warmer, warmer, cold! warmer, very warm, hot! hotter, boiling!" until you find the object.
The "YES" signal is the equivalent of "warmer," where you let your pet know that the action they just did was in the positive direction, it was good. The signal can be anything sound of your choosing, as long as it stands out from common speech and noises.
A sound: click, snap, beep, ding, etc.
+ easy to use
+ stands out more than other signals
+ the sound is consistent
- difficult to coordinate sometimes when your hands are full
- you won't always have one handy
A word, any language: "good," "ecco," "si," "da," "bravo," etc.
+ easy to use
+ stands out, we don't normally say "YES" in daily speech
- can be inconsistent, try to make your tone the same
- you more likely will speak too much (talked about later)
Charge the "YES" signal
This means giving the signal value, so that for the dog, signal = yay!
With your pup nearby, sound the signal (I will use "YES" for the rest of the steps for simplicity) and give him a kibble. Continue with "YES, " kibble, "YES," kibble about 20 times. You will know he's ready when "YES" makes his ears perk or turn his gaze to you.
Introduce your pup's name
Say your dog's name, "YES," and feed. In this way, you are bringing value to the sound of their name. I will use my dog's name, Manfred. Continue with "Manfred," "YES," kibble, again about 20 times.
Try doing this also when your pup is not paying attention to you. They will begin expecting the pattern of name-yes-kibble, so try to change it up.
Repeat this a couple times a day for about three days, until your dog always looks at you or comes to you when you say their name.
This communication pattern is generally how you will advance in training commands.
> "SIT" = "YES" = yay!!
> "COME" = "YES" = yay!!
> "DROP IT" = "YES" = yay!!
Don't talk too much!
Pet owners are notorious Chatty Kathys around their pups. Constant repetition of dog's name, adding nicknames, and saying too many words in between commands are all a hindrance to clear communication.
As an example:
Rather than "COME," most people lean towards, "C'mon buddy! Hey, get over here pups it's too cold for you to stay outside..."
See the difference? The ladder sounds a lot like "wa-waaa wa-waaa wa-waaa."
Keep it simple and direct. If your dog is not doing what is being asked of him, either he still does not understand the command, or you are not providing enough incentive for him to do it.