Why Clear and Consistent Communication is Key
One factor that is so important when it comes to our lives with dogs is clearness of communication. Communication is not just about what someone is saying. For effective communication to take place, the message to be communicated must be understood clearly by the one receiving it so they can act or respond (or not) as necessary. For true communication, the receiver must also be understood in their responses.
It may be easy to think when your dog has been successfully coached in some cues that they understand what the cues mean. That isn’t quite true.
While dogs do appear to understand cues, they aren’t actually understanding the meaning of the word. To them it’s simply a specific noise. Because of the way that learning works, repetition during coaching means that they have come to associate that noise with something. “When I hear that sound and do this thing, I get the tasty treat.” So, hearing the cue word, for example ‘down’ prompts the dog to lie down and then they receive the little piece of sausage or liver or dog treat.
This doesn’t mean that the dog knows the word ‘down’ means ‘lay down’ – it’s an action they have come to associate with getting something good. It has been positively reinforced, and so they are likely to do it again on hearing that cue. This is why clearness and consistency in how we communicate with our dogs is so important.
How then can we ensure consistent and clear communication and, importantly, make sure that it applies in both directions?
Make cues short, simple, and easy to keep the same every time you say it. While to us ‘down’, ‘lie down’ and ‘lay down’ all mean the same thing, to the dog who has learned the cue of ‘down’ they are very different sounds. Be sure to make sure everyone in the family or who will be interacting with the dog and giving them cues knows what their cues are and the importance of using the right cues.