Pandemic Dog Training Challenge 1A: Developing a Common Training Language

April 3, 2020

Before we can get into teaching your dog a behavior we need to give you both a common training language. In part 1A you will learn how to speak it. Ready?

Our dogs don’t come to us programmed with an understanding of the English language (or whatever language you might be speaking). Imagine if I dropped you into a foreign country right now, a little overwhelming right? No one can communicate with you or teach you anything without first building a common language. That usually involves a lot of body language paired with words.

If I were actually sitting with you right now and said, “un’arancia per favore”, it probably wouldn’t result in any action from you. I could say it until I was blue in the face and you might try different things, but in all likelihood you would not be successful. If I instead pointed to the orange on your kitchen counter and tilted my head slightly in question, then mimed eating it you might begin to get the picture that I was asking for an orange.

This is what we’re going to do for our dogs. We are going to give certain words and sounds meaning by first saying the word, then performing a particular action. In this case the action you perform involves the delivery of a food reward in a specific location. These words will mark the moment your dog does something correctly and give you the time to deliver the food reward in the location that serves your training purposes. We’re going to call these words and sounds markers.

The markers you will see me using in the video are as follows:

  • Nice: Food will be delivered to the dog’s mouth.
  • Yes: The food in my hand is available, the dog may come and take it.
  • Get it: Food will be delivered to the floor.
  • Click: Primarily, Food will be delivered to the floor. Sometimes I do different deliveries with this one.

I offer these up, not because they are the words or actions you must use, but because these are the ones you will see me use in my videos. So if you’re a beginner and only watching these videos it might be less confusing to use what you see above.

The goal was to start the challenges at a beginner level so everyone can play. If you already have your own system that’s perfectly fine. It’s the meaning behind the word that matters, not necessarily the word itself. If the idea of using more than one of these words is too overwhelming for you, pick one, and use it for all versions of food delivery. The priority is that you use a system that you can handle.

I specifically avoided the use of the word, “good”, because I use it often conversationally with my dogs and it loses meaning.

In the video below you will see me standing while facing a plastic dog food container representing a fake dog. The bowls you see are representing the dog’s mouth. The bowl to the right, set behind me, represents where the dog’s mouth would have moved when I used my “yes” marker and moved my hand from the dog’s original location to that location. “Yes”, involves the dog moving to your food hand so I help teach that with motion from the beginning.


Things to notice:

  1. Anchor your hand in one place.
    • If you are using a pouch full of treats or some sort of pocket, anchor your hand somewhere that does not touch the treat area.
    • My food is in my closed hand here so I do my best to keep it still and not fidget with the treats until I am done speaking.
  2. Say your marker word, think, “pause”, then perform the action associated with that word.
    • This is harder than you think. You will want to speak and move at the same time. This is why you practice without your dog.
    • Recording yourself helps you evaluate your progress.
  3. While using ,”yes”, you will see me start my motion in front of the dog’s “nose”. This is so the dog moves to my treat hand.
    • In the future, when your dog knows what ,”yes”, means you will not need to use this luring motion. You will be able to say, “yes” and present your hand at a distance, and your dog will move to you to get the food.
  4. While using, “get it” I also start my motion in front of the dog’s nose, this is so the dog sees where the treat is thrown.
    • I typically only drop 1 treat per, “get it”. In the video you will see multiple fall because I wasn’t sure if cheerios were going to show up on camera.
    • This allows the dog to come back to training more quickly without wasted time searching for a lost treat. Thank you to Shade Whitesel for that training nugget.

Marking and rewarding your dog is a mechanical skill and practice helps us get the order of events correctly. So practice this without your dog for a few days, multiple times a day.

Why? Imagine the orange example, if I myself was a little unclear/unsure about what I was asking for, you might have given me an apple. If I was really off, you might have ended up sitting there blankly. You may even have left out of frustration. If you are confident and clear by the time you start teaching your dog things will go much more smoothly.

Sound boring? Here are options:

Use M&Ms, jellybeans, or some other small candy you like to eat. You get to eat the candy in the bowls when you’re done. Throw something you don’t care about at the floor, I was using cheerios.

You can also use another person holding a cup. If you’re going to do that go watch the dog video in part 1B for an idea of what the motions look like with another being. This is great when you have others in the house who need to learn this new language! Take turns being dog and trainer. It gives you empathy for the dog and can get really silly if you need a laugh right now. If you do this please send me a video link!

Head on over to Challenge Part 1B when you feel confident and ready to practice with your dog.



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