Who does not know it? Bello runs across the meadow, one calls his name vigorously and what does Bello do? Nothing! At least not what we just imagined. And since it is human to throw words around, the “BELLOOOOO” is called a few more times after the dog, with a steadily increasing tone.
Another scenario, the same result: you get a visitor. Fiffi is as happy as Bolle and of course has to make that known. How else should the visitor know that he is welcome here? Fiffi, quite in good dog manner, jumps up at the visitor in order to be able to moisten as much face as possible with his tongue.
You, naturally outraged and embarrassed by Fiffi’s apparently distance-free behavior, shout “Fiffi AUS”, “NO”, Fiffi in your basket “…” IMMEDIATELY !! “… And what does Fiffi do? Exactly what he’s already doing. Delighted like Bolle and moisten the last dry spots on the visitor’s face.
The scenarios described can be transferred to many situations and I am sure that every dog owner has already experienced them in one way or another. Including me.
So why wasn’t Bello the other way around at the call of his owner and why didn’t Fiffi let the visitor down, even though Mistress had explicitly told him? There can be a number of reasons for this. In the first part of the series “Why doesn’t he do what I tell him?” We look at the following reason:
The audible signal, i.e. the signal that is supposed to trigger the behavior, was introduced too early or incorrectly or the signal was not trained until the signal control.
Let’s take a closer look at this: For our dogs, the German language is not their mother tongue. As if that doesn’t make communication difficult enough, there is also the fact that dogs, unlike humans, communicate non-verbally.
Imagine you are on vacation in China. Once there, ask a local for directions to your hotel. However, you do not speak a common language. You can neither make it clear to him with your verbal language where you want to go, nor does the older Chinese like the fact that despite all the misunderstandings you still fall and hug him thanks to all the misunderstandings.
The same applies to communication with your dog: Without having learned his language beforehand, you will neither understand him correctly nor be able to tell him what you want from him correctly.
The topic “body language and communication” would go beyond this contribution and definitely deserves its own contribution. But what I would like to add is that you understand that your dog cannot understand and correctly interpret a pronounced “No” or its pronounced name if it has not previously learned what this tone (i.e. the verbal audible signal) means. Similar to the example with the Chinese.
The signal introduction is important when learning a signal, i.e. from when can I prove the behavior with the verbal audible signal, which should trigger the behavior in the future.
There are different answers depending on the behavior to be learned and the selected training path. Let’s take a look at some of the options here:
- I have built up a behavior about “lure”. Example: The dog was lured into the “sitting” position using a piece of food. After the behavior with the lure movement is triggered reliably, I would now like to convert this lure movement into an audible signal, let’s take the word “sit”. For this we simply set the new signal (audible signal) BEFORE the old signal (lock movement). It then looks like this: Audible signal “sit” -> lure -> dog sits down -> reward
It is important to observe the sequence and to leave about 0.5 seconds between the new and the old signal. After a few repetitions, simply leave out the old signal (the lock movement) and wait for what happens. If the conditioning of the new signal was successful, the behavior is now triggered, although the lock movement has been omitted. It now looks like this:
“Seat” -> dog sits down -> reward
- I have built up a behavior about “shaping”. Example: The dog should touch an object with its nose. The dog does not show the behavior on its own and so we reward individual intermediate steps that then lead to the final behavior (e.g. looking at the object, moving towards the object, sniffing at the object, touching the object …).
Only when the end behavior is shown reliably, only then the audible signal is introduced.
Let us take the “Target” audible signal for this example. If we observe that the dog will now carry out the behavior again, then we say the audible signal “Target”, followed by the behavior and then the reward. If you do not manage to say the audible signal shortly before the behavior, you can set the audible signal at the same time as the behavior. Linking the word to behavior can then take a little longer than if we named it shortly beforehand. After we have made a few repetitions (the audible signal is given before the dog shows the behavior), we say the audible signal without the dog showing any intention to perform the behavior. If he now executes the behavior, the signal has been linked to the behavior. If not, then further repetitions and possibly troubleshooting are required.
- I have behavior that does not have to be created. Example: Stay. With a small-step and error-free structure of the “stay” signal, the behavior does not have to be generated first, it is already “present”. In such cases we can introduce the audible signal directly, but only if we are sure that we can create a clean training structure. Let us take a closer look at this: If I train “stay”, I put the dog in the “seat”, for example, then I say the new audible signal “stay”, add my hand signal directly and reward immediately. That means I start at max. “Stay on” for a second so that the dog cannot “break” at all and can connect the audible signal with the right behavior from the start (namely staying where it is right now). The duration is gradually increased, then distance is built in and later distraction. Due to this small-step structure, you can guide the dog through the training almost error-free and the audible signal is linked to the behavior right from the start.
In addition to the right time for signal introduction, the order is also crucial. That means:
A new signal is always given BEFORE the old signal if the new signal is to take over the signal control for the behavior.
If an audible signal occurs at the same time as a hand signal, there is a high probability that the dog will ONLY notice the hand signal. In this case one speaks of the so-called overshadow (-> body language overshadows verbal language).
Furthermore, it is crucial for the success of a signal whether it has already had a different behavior and whether the selected signal has already had a different meaning. That means:
If the selected signal has already been linked to another behavior, it is more difficult for the dog to attach a new behavior to the signal. One speaks in the case of “blocking” (-> the signal is blocked)
If the dog heard the selected signal over and over again without any consequence, the dog has learned that the word (our signal) has no meaning. One speaks in the case of “learned irrelevance”. In this context it should be mentioned that it is not worth repeating a signal 5 times in a row. It’s better to think about why he didn’t respond and what I can do to make him react. Since this series of articles comes naturally as called?
Now we come to the so-called signal control, which actually only says that the behavior is reliably carried out on a signal, regardless of the context in which the dog is located and that the behavior is only shown on the signal.
In order for us to gain signal control in training, the signal must not only be introduced properly and correctly, but also discriminated against and generalized.
Simply put, discrimination means that the dog can distinguish the signal from other signals, and generalization means that the signal can be shown in different contexts. This includes different locations, different signal generators, different distractions, different keys in the signaling, etc.
A good training plan can be very helpful here and especially for “training newbies” this should be a constant companion at the beginning.
So let’s summarize:
One of the crucial reasons why your dog may not be doing what you are telling it can be the signal given. The signal may have been introduced at the wrong time or in the wrong order. An auditory signal can be overshadowed by your body language and it can lose relevance if it is repeated repeatedly without any consequence. Improper training may have resulted in the dog not being able to execute the signal in every context, or that the dog cannot clearly differentiate the signal from other signals, or that the signal has never been linked to behavior or even to a completely different (undesired) ) Behavior.
In part II of the series “Why doesn’t he do what I tell him?” We deal with a completely different reason, namely that of consequence, that is, whether I have reinforced or punished behavior. Be curious!