A blog reader asked a great question recently, in response to my comment that I couldn’t help myself and repeated “Stay, Stay, Stay” to Willie when in a dangerous situation at the side of a busy highway. We all know that repeated cues, like the ever popular “Sit, Sit, Sit” are not exactly “best practice” in dog training. And yet, they are commonly used, especially by beginners; just go to any Beginning Family Dog Training class and you’ll hear repeated cues thrown around like confetti at a homecoming parade. It was that very occurrence that helped inspire me to write The Other End of the Leash, about how the evolutionary backgrounds of people and dogs both help us (we’re both crazy social and insanely playful) and hurt us (direct facial contact is polite to people, rude to dogs). “Sit, Sit, Sit” sounds a lot like “Wooo Woo Woo” coming from a chimpanzee, and that is not a random association. But why? Why do we repeat ourselves like agitated apes, and why is it so hard to stop? We all know why it is a problem in training: If you want your dog to sit the first time you say “Sit” you are teaching the opposite if you say it three times in a row. But besides wondering why we do it, might it be useful, ever, to repeat ourselves?
First of all, why do we repeat ourselves when it makes no sense? A look at the science of vocal communication is helpful here. We know that individuals who are emotionally aroused tend to produce short, repeated vocalizations. Think of repeated whines from a needy dog, whimpers from a child upset about something, and your own predisposition to repeat yourself when you are nervous. In The Other End of the Leash I talk about a good friend who had never ridden, and yet was inappropriately placed on a nervous, high strung horse. The faster the horse went, the more my friend said “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” and the more he did the faster the horse went and the faster the horse went the faster he said “Whoa Whoa Whoa”… You can well imagine that it did not end well.
This linkage between emotional arousal and short, repeated vocalizations is so common in mammals that some speculated that all animal vocalizations were nothing more than indicators of their emotional state. As arousal increases, so does the rate of vocalizing. Thus, it makes sense that when we are nervous we tend to repeat ourselves, and who isn’t nervous the first time they take a dog into a dog training class, no matter how kind and benevolent the instructors?
But there’s more to vocalizations than the internal state of the producer. An important aspect of my dissertation research was to shift the focus and look at a sound’s effect on the receiver. I had found that across language groups, cultures and species of receiver, people use short, rapidly repeated notes to speed animals up, long and slow ones to soothe or slow them and one sharp sound to stop a fast moving animal. And the study I did on puppies showed that they indeed were more active in response to short, repeated notes than to long, slow ones. That’s why I argued that sounds do more than provide information about the internal state of the producer (or predict future behavior), but can be used to influence the response of the receiver.
Go back now to the story I told in a recent blog about having to get Willie out of his crate beside a busy highway. Picture cars and trucks whizzing by at 65 miles an hour, a huge bleeding, flapping beast barely contained by Jim’s arms, and me needing to open the crate in the back of my RAV to get Willie out and put the turkey in. Describing everyone as “aroused” is appropriate here: If Jim had lost the turkey it could have fallen/ran/flown just a few feet into the highway and caused a horrible accident. If I didn’t handle Willie right he could have been killed. Tom Turkey must have been the most agitated — injured and now captured by monsters, he must have been terrified. Here’s what the scene looked and sounded like, as best as I can describe it:
I opened the door to the back of the car (the door to Willie’s crate facing directly to the back). While holding my out, palm toward Willie in the universal “Stay” signal, I began repeated “Staaaaaaay, Staaaaaay, Staaaasaay” before I opened the door to his crate. Notice there were two important variables the sounds I used here: I repeated myself, but I was using looooooong, sloooooooow notes designed to keep Willie calm and still. I was also consciously keeping my voice low, the better to sound confident and even somewhat inhibiting to a dog. Thus, there were 2 functions to my “cue.” One was using sound to inform Willie what I wanted him to do. The other, which over rode the first, was focused on using sound to influence his emotional state and motor activity levels. This had an indirect benefit on me, in that speaking as I did acted to calm me as much as it did Willie. (Not a small benefit at the time, believe me.)
Was that a “perfect” use of sound in that context? Nope, I don’t think so. It was adequate, and it worked, but here’s a tweak that would have made it better. Ideally, now that I have time to think it through, it would have been better if I had said “Staaaaaaay” once, and then, as Willie did stay (which he did, bless him), I should have said “Gooooooooooood boooooooy” and repeated it as long as I needed to until I had him safely by the collar. That avoided repeating a cue (and thus undercutting the power of it when spoken once) but would, at the same time, serve to keep all of us calmer and safer.
Lots to think about here: First, think about what you say to your dog. Are you using vocal cues to convey information, or to influence your dog’s emotional state? And how do the sounds you use influence your own internal arousal levels? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Heaven knows I will never use sound ideally in every context (I have been known, on occasion, to shriek like a five-year old when truly panicked) but I find the more I understand about acoustic communication the better I am at it. You?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Welcome to July. It’s been in the 80’s most of the week. About six weeks of growth has occurred in 5 days. I’m serious, it is absolutely strange and weird and seems to be acting as a kind of ink blot test: The people that I know who are most connected to the land are both confused on some deeply primal level and frantic about how to get six weeks of gardening/farming/spring chores done in a few days. Others, who live less earth-bound lives, have fewer concerns and are thrilled with an early spring. This makes sense. It’s all good if you don’t have to worry about killing the thistles before it’s too late and they take over your pasture at the same time that you need to prune the raspberries, get ready for lambing, weed the gardens, worry about insect pests and parasites that didn’t get killed off over winter that usually do …… You get the idea. I have learned to smile and celebrate with my more urban friends and commiserate with my country ones and take it one day at a time.
Here’s some of the good parts of our early spring. And there’s lots of it. It’s gorgeous now: Tiny leaf buds that define the color “spring green,” cheerful, nodding daffodils, and carpets of my favorite spring flower, Scilla. We got some great rain yesterday and last night; it was getting terribly dry, so that was a good thing. We are also expecting a cool down… back to the 60’s (still 20 degrees or so over normal for this time of year) instead of the high 70’s and low 80’s. The only down side of the storm is the discovery that little Tootsie girl has Thunder Phobia (which I learned around 3 am this morning, our first thunder storm together). Poor kid. We’ll just add that to the list we all have of “Things to Work on For Our Dogs: Treating Thunder Phobia.” Oh well, what else is there to do, right?
Here’s hoping that you are enjoying your own weather….and perhaps some flowers as pretty as these daffodils.
Here’s a carpet of Scilla (or Siberian Squill) under a Dogwood bush from Tootsie’s perspective:
Thanks for addressing this! Very helpful. I have a lot to think about.
I live in a household where I’m the only one who gives a cue once, and as a result, I’m the one that the dog listens to. In fact, Elka will frequently look to me if somebody else gives her a cue. Because, y’know, I told them. But there’s only so much I’m willing to repeat myself to humans!
That said, I was definitely forgiving of the “stay” repeat, though I’d conveniently forgotten that you had, in detail, discussed the difference between fast repeats and drawn out syllables in your book. I remember having laughed a little at your friend on the horse (sorry) as I read it.
So far as arousal level goes, short sharp repeats can definitely get Elka going, in my experience (if I tell her to go to the back door, and then follow her, for fun, saying “go go go go”, she’ll pick it up, which is fun and funny.) I also used “Down”, firmly and drawn out (dowwwwn) in a situation when she was a puppy where she’d slipped her collar and thought it was great fun to run in a big circle around me, regardless of the fact that a (thankfully quiet) road was there.
What a great article! In training with my guide dog, we use sound all the time and the instructors are very good about teaching us what tone of voice to use with the dog. I’ll never forget how I sounded my first time when commanding my first dog. My command “Forward,” was barely above a whisper and very weak. my dog looked back at me and I could sware he would’ve asked me if I really did know what I was doing if he could talk. The more authoritative my commands became, the faster my dog responded to me.When I was out training with my most recent dog last Fall, we were doing platform work. the situation goes like this. Our dogs are on the left side while working, and so is the drop-off for the subway platform. We walk up parelle to the edge of the platform and instruct the dog to make a left turn. The dog is trained to ignore our command and either not move at all, or keep moving forward, all to keep us away from the platform edge until a train pulls into the station. I was training with Seamus and I said “left.” He turned left and led me to the edge of the platform. I looked up at my instructor and asked why he’d done that. She said it was because I was very authoritative in my voice when giving the command, and Seamus just wanted to please me because our relationship was so new. But I understood then, just how much our dogs respond to sound. Long story short, we repeated the training exercise and he didn’t move an inch when I asked him to go left. He got food for that. Anyway, such a great article because I think sound is vital in our relationships with our dogs as handlers because we can’t use visual cues at all.
In this case, I thought you were using “Stay, stay, stay…” as a bridge, i.e. a signal to continue a behavior that’s in progress. Willie was already doing the right thing (sitting in his crate) when you opened the door. That’s different from repeating the same cue over and over to try to get a dog to *change* his behavior.
Fascinating post with plenty of novel angles (as usual). I was just surprised you didn’t mention the bridge concept here.
Amy @ True Dog says
Aase Lange says
Very interesting – that was one of the most fascinating parts of OTOTL for me!
How do you feel about Ian Dunbar’s repeated cues as -R thing? (I was half wondering if you’d comment on that as I read this post.) As I understand it (I could be wrong), he intends the calm, patient repetition of, e.g., “Sit”, perhaps while moving closer to the dog, to function as a kind of social pressure, which is released once the dog complies. I think he says to then praise but not treat (if you had to repeat the cue this way). Thoughts?
To Alaska: Great point about the “bridge.” I don’t often use the word bridge because it seems to be defined in so many different ways. Wait… I sense another blog coming on!
I have noticed that when people want my dog to do something, they often start repeating the command before the dog has even had any time to take action. That is so unfair, especially because my dog knows his stuff and is actually very good at interpreting different kind of voices and ways to speak. Repetition clearly confuses him, but the more dog loving people the less they are willing to listen to any advices. 🙂
I normally give the command(or the request) only once, but unfortunately sometimes the human urge to repeat does take over me. Like the other day, when my dog ran after a hare and I ran after him waving and yelling like a lunatic “Wait!” over and over again. The funny thing is, my dog actually paused and turned to me several times, every time which would have been great for me to stop and call him, but I just kept running and screaming mindlessly.
Rebecca Podgorski says
Great Article! I could use a little advice:
I have a 6 month old rottweiler. She does great in the house with distraction, so I only need to say things once. However, on walks, or outside getting her attention is like pulling teeth. I find myself repeating her name and commands even though I have yummy treats. Any suggestions to get her attention without having to repeat and give her the option of ignoring me until she’s ready to listen?
Beth with the Corgis says
Hmmm. I completely agree with your broad explanation of short, repeated cues (which is why “come come come come come!” is more effective than a single sharp “come!”) vs one steady unrepeated cue. But perhaps I am not 100% convinced of your self-criticism in this case.
Having ridden for years, I can assure you that most people calm a horse in a nervous situation by repeating the cue in long, slow words. “whooooo, easy girl, whoo-ooo-oooaaaa. Steady, steady whoooooaaa” can be heard by countless seasoned horse handlers when handling nervous or flighty horses. In fact, people would be generally advised NOT to stop talking in that circumstance.
When Jack gets panicky over nails/vets/heights etc (the only thing he’s bad about; close hovering) I will use “wait, waiiiitttt, waiiitt Jack easy waiiittt” and indeed it works BETTER than one “wait.” Of course I expect on a normal “stay” that I will say it once and not have to repeat it.
But here’s my thought: when we know beyond reasonable doubt that our dog is in a mode where flight is iminent, we need to constantly remind him of what the command is to override that “flight” response. So we “wait” or “stay” and realize that if a dog is trained to stay for 5 minutes under ideal circumstance, that might translate to 15 seconds in a high-stress situation. And so we “remind” the dog that indeed “wait” or “stay” is still the expectation and, by clearly giving our expectation, we help calm the dog by making him know what is expected of him. Under stress, a dog is inclined to let his flight response override our cue in short order and so we need to constantly reassert it.
Which, I suppose, is similar to Alaska’s post.
Roberta Beach says
I use “stay” over and over when asking Justus to “stay” in the car while opening the tail gate. I also use hand signals. It works for him, so far; usually, I have him leashed in the back back but the Great Pyr I’m fostering chewed the leash apart (ending up in the front seat!). So, when I last put Justus in, I wanted to be very sure he would stay and really, did not need to repeat – he is good but not perfect at it. Great reminder post – I need to re-read the Book :).
This is a great reminder about repeating commands. I have tried to be careful about not repeating “sit” with our 1 1/2 year old yellow lab, and I’ve noticed that she has started to anticipate me–when we go out in the morning, I just need to pick up the leash and look at her, and she will sit so I can put her leash on. The same when we come inside–often, I just need to say “Autumn” and wait a second, and she’ll sit. As a matter of fact, because we use the sit command to try to keep her from jumping (you can’t jump when you’re sitting), all I have to do is cross my arms and look at her (or sometimes hold my hand up), and she sits right down and grins up at me. (“Look at me! I’m a good girl!”)
I’ve noticed my boyfriend tends to say “Autumn, sit, sit, sit!” when he comes in, and she takes longer to sit with him. She also tends to wiggle and have a harder time sitting still when he puts her harness on to take her for a walk. I’m sure some of this is just excitement, but some of it might be the fact he keeps saying “sit, sit, sit” instead of just once and waiting.
This article is actually a reminder to me that we may not have brought home Dash, our 6 yr old wild Boxer, if I hadn’t recently read the Other End of the Leash.
He was a “free to good home, needs room to run” ad in our local paper, a 7 month old boy who had already fractured his leg by leaping to the end of his leash and crashing to the ground. The elderly couple had received him as a birthday gift and were completely overwhelmed by 2 months of crate rest with this active youngster. As soon as they’d gotten the medical all-clear from the vets, they’d put the ad in the paper.
When we arrived at their house, he greeted us paws first, the woman barely able to keep hold of his collar. While they tried to battle his behavior with repeated no, stop, down, off, etc. I decided to use my newly minted knowledge to use long low sounds to try to take his arousal down to a more manageable level. So I started stroking his neck and side deeply and slowly while saying “whoa” very low and quiet. It wasn’t a miracle cure for his craziness, but it did take him down to a manageable level. Enough so that we took him for a ‘test’ walk and then loaded him up into the car for a ride to his new home.
To this day, I warn people that talking him in high-pitched repeated phrases is akin to throwing gasoline on a bonfire. 🙂 It’s a lesson I’m happy I learned, because without it I might have missed out on life with my crazy loveable lug.
Lisa W says
I had forgotten that horse story, too. When I first read it, and again now, it reminded me of an incident with our Blue-Fronted Amazon parrot, Earle. Friends were visiting, and Earle was always ready to meet new people and give them a little parrot-savvy test. Earle climbed onto our friend Phil’s arm and started to slip. Parrots use their beaks and talons to steady themselves, and as Earle was using Phil’s arm to get more purchase, Phil thought Earle was biting him and started to shake his arm and say no. The more he shook, and the louder he said no, the harder Earle clamped on. We finally got Phil to stop shaking his arm, got Earle off and everyone was fine. Twenty years later, it still makes me chuckle.
I know I repeat commands and not always in a calm and low voice. I do make a concerted effort to pay attention to how and how many times I say something and have gotten much better. With our very sensitive dog, I have had to watch when and how I exclaim even if it’s not directed at her. If I’m on the phone or speaking to someone and say, “oh my” or “oh my god,” Olive gets very upset. She has taught me a lot about sound and voice and volume.
Chris Wallace says
Thanks for your great article, Patricia. I believe that it’s okay to repeat commands in urgent and dangerous situations if necessary but otherwise once should work. My dogs are well trained offleash on our daily walks along the Arizona washes to the point they will stop in mid chase of a rabbit. My male Aussie will even stop himself now in mid chase and turn around to come right back toward me for a treat without any command from me. However, when we saw a javelina one day in the distance both of my Aussies ignored me and charged right toward it. That’s when I panicked and yelled long drawn out Staaaaaays! and Leave its! in my firmest loudest voice while running as fast I could to catch up. Right before a potentially fatal encounter I think my dogs sensed the seriousness in my tone and they stopped so I could leash them. I felt lucky then but now keep them on long retractable leashes. We rarely see javelinas but you never know when they will pop up and I can’t trust my dog’s instincts around them. Those guys can brutally tear your dog apart. There are snake and toad aversion clinics here but javelina aversion training would be impossible. I’m wondering if even Cesar can curb his dogs if they come upon a wild animal that triggers such strong impulsive instincts and that if even one of his pack members started chasing if some of the others will follow. Thanks for any more insight you can offer.
Thanks for another of many interesting discussions- lots to think about. My first reaction is my most recent struggle to effectively use sound.
As a volunteer, it is often a challenge to get the attention of dogs over threshold without arousing them further. (Especially the dogs who can find any reason to increase arousal. Sounds, real pieces of chicken, toys all trigger off the chart responses of so so so excited.) A single, drawn out, relatively low-pitched whistle is the closest I
Beth with the Corgis says
Rebecca, I don’t know what Trisha would say about your 6-month-old puppy, but if it were my puppy I would tend to see that as “Pup is not mature enough to listen outside with distractions, so let’s wait on this awhile” rather than “I need to keep practicing!”. When Jack was about 10 or 11 months old, I tried doing an out-of-sight stay; he already did long-ish stays and I thought I’d practice moving out of sight. Well, he clearly had no idea what he was expected to do. When I left the room, he seemed to forget completely that we were working on something. He looked so disinterested that I waited about 2 months and tried again, and presto! he got it right away.
For a six-month old, I don’t expect them to be able to listen outside with distractions yet. I like to train my dogs a lot when they look bored. Then they see training as a really fun thing to do instead of an intrusion on some other fun thing they were already doing.
I’d work on keeping it fun and entertaining at home, and gradually increase the distractions at home. Then I’d move to “Outside with no distractions at all.” So, for instance, if we had a fun half-hour walk and sniff at a nice big park and my puppy already had a chance to sniff and explore every interesting thing, AND was not playing with other dogs/people, I might spend 3 minutes playing the recall game between two people with extra delicious treats that I’d already shown pup I had in my position. Or I might ask for a sit and micro-stay in a similar time and place.
I would also not hesitate to actually wave the treat in front of my puppy’s nose BEFORE saying my attention word if we were outside and I wanted to get my puppy’s focus.
I don’t know too many six-month old puppies who will listen outside with distractions, so don’t feel like you are falling behind! If a six-month old has a good sit and come inside the house with only small distractions, does not pull everywhere on the leash, and knows not to leap on everyone all the time, I think that’s a great start. Then you introduce the distractions and novel places very slowly as puppy matures.
For Rebecca: Oh yes, I concur with Beth with Corgis absolutely. A six-month old dog simply doesn’t have the emotional maturity to ignore distractions in the great outdoors. It would be like expecting a very young child to stay quiet during a long concert of classical music. Who would, right? Your job is to prevent bad habits (use a front attachment halter perhaps in contexts of high distraction), to build on successes (paying attention for 1-2 seconds for real chicken pieces) and be competitive with the environment (I repeat, real chicken pieces.) Over the next two years (no, that’s not a typo, sorry!), gradually ask for more and more emotional control, and more and more attention to you when you ask. Use positive reinforcements, a clicker could be great here, work on your timing as if you were an athlete and you’ll be getting compliments right and left about your well-behaved dog before you know it.
These are good reminders for me. Living with the crazy scared dog now I’m trying to train a lot of impulse control. Her first impulse when frightened is to behave aggressively to scare whatever is frightening her away. Since she’s terrified of people other than the immediate family this is a very bad situation. I barely need to speak to my other dog so repeating cues doesn’t enter into it but for the crazy one I do catch myself repeating things trying to get her attention or trying to help her remember what she’s supposed to be doing. Training her to sit at the door and wait until it is open and she’s released before she bolts outside I catch myself repeating wait every time I see her muscles tighten preparing to move. I know it’s more effective if I simply push the door shut but I can’t seem to act on that in the moment. I’m repeating wait as the door closes. Still she’s to the point where she’ll hold the sit almost three whole seconds while the door is opening. That’s an improvement over having her leap up as soon as my hand started toward the door knob.
Beth with the Corgis says
Trisha, I know this is off-topic, but we live by a park and I have had more people than I can count apologize to me and my dogs when their 10-month-old puppy behaves exactly as one would expect a 10-month-old puppy to behave when out in a park on a nice spring day! Not only do they apologize for puppy exuberance towards people (puppy tries to sit, gets so excited he bounces up to greet, them remembers he’s meant to sit and tries to lower his butt again), they even apologize for appropriate dog-to-dog interaction. So, say their young dog gets so excited he jumps up and down right in front of my dogs with no introductions. One of my dogs will either turn away, or snark a little (depending on how “rude” the behavior was) and the adolescent will do a very appropriate lowering and muzzle/lip-licking before trying again in a more polite fashion, and the other owner seems mortified. If I had a magic wand and could change something, I would love for people to realize that young healthy dogs who have been waiting all day for the owners to return to work are perfectly normal if they are not perfect gentlemen at the beginning of a walk!
Many, many years ago when I was learning to horseback ride, my teachers put a great deal of emphasis on being calm, both with voice an body language. I was very young, but they still put a LOT of time into working with us kids at not moving erratically, not being loud or excited, and most importantly never screaming when startled. I think the golden rule of horsemanship is basically don’t panic no matter what happens. They always told me how important it was to show the horse a calm, confident leader because how could the horse be expected to be brave if his rider was scared and nervous? I’m not perfect of course, but these skills have served my very well both in dog training and in many other areas of my life.
Thanks for thinking your responses with Willie through and reporting on your conclusions! If I’m ever in a similar situation, I’ll try to remember!
Monique Feyrecilde says
I see nothing wrong with your cue repetition given the circumstance. This is a “maintenance” cue to me. For example, training my sheepdogs, they are always permitted to make the next move after a stop on their own (eg walk up or a flank appropriate to cover or hold a line). If I need the dog to lie down longer, I simply override their permission to move by repeating, quietly and calmly, lie downs.
This is very different from what I expect in obedience or agility from those same dogs, and they seem to absorb the contextual differences splendidly.
Best wishes for Spring. We are still lambing in mud and snow 🙁
Bobbie Kolehouse says
Thank you for sharing the depth of your incredible knowledge with us. You are so insightful.
What I’ve noticed about people who work best with animals, is they are generally calm themselves. Not repressed, but internally calm. They move slower around them, they are quiet, they seem to intuit what the animals are without anxious watchfulness.
I’m an anxious watcher and I suspect many pet owners are the same. It isn’t about working with animals 24/7, it is about the constant state of tension people carry with them all the time. Other people feel it, our animals feel it.
So without saying a word, my animals are monitoring me. It is a symbiotic relationship–but I’d put my money on their interpretation of me, rather than mine of them. Your books, Dr. McConnell, and the little one by Turid Rugaas (pure observational gold), helped me better understand my dogs, and other animals. And perhaps that is part of the same process of learning about ourselves by learning about others, here the other is our domestic animals.
With Willie you wrote you were giving him a cue/command to “stay”, and control his emotional state. The gem there is learning to control emotional state–both for the dog and yourself. Animals are not easily fooled–actually neither are people. We can walk into a tension filled room and feel it immediately, too.
Almost instinctively people will try to calm an aroused large animal with an “easy, e-a-s-y” followed with that “good” –all low and quiet with no strong intention. If they scream at the animal, it goes bad for everyone. With my dogs, I’ve learned that no matter what the perceived danger (bad storms for instance), I need to move slowly and keep my voice calm. Maybe even smile (and I am terrified of storms). Any reaction from me and everything becomes more difficult. (Think about removing horses or cattle from a burning barn.)
For example, one early evening I was taking dogs outside to the run, and had my beloved Crystal following me. Twilight is the time rabbits play and when I turned around, she was gone. I live on a very quiet road, but I could hear a car coming down it (people coming home from work) and I could not find my dog. Then I saw her. She was a black and white Cocker and her collar and bib were white and I saw that bib. She was in the ditch on the opposite side of the road when I screamed her name. The car stopped and just missed her. She did what I asked her to do when I screamed her name–she moved.
Thankfully she was not hurt, and lived to be 16, the dam of champions, and earned her AKC JH and one SH leg in one season at age 9. But I feel that panic now writing this, some 12 years later. I don’t know that I could control it any better now than then. Even as I write this, my Cockers are becoming aroused as they sense my feelings.
What an interesting, integrated system we share.
Thank you again for your good work. We all benefit.
LHT Rider says
We too have Scilla blooming under a dogwood tree and until your post did not know what they were called. Thank you!
Otis has trained me better than I could have done on my own- he gets very stressed by excited or repetitive vocal commands. The only time I feel tempted to repeat myself is when he is absorbed in something and doesn’t respond right away to my soft recall-(it’s really just a gentle ‘keep up’ or ‘come back this way’, not a true recall) He does usually respond to my hard recall cue, “right here!” issued in my best ‘drill sergeant’ tone, immediately . It’s pure laziness. I know that I should call him once, and then go get him if he doesn’t comply, but if he does not seem actually defiant, just inattentive, I typically just call him again rather than walk back for him.
One of the big advantages (compensations?) of a very large dog is that they have a much more difficult time slipping past a human out of a car or house-Otis in particular is easily held (even walked) by his collar if there is any doubt, and both he and Sandy are very responsive to body blocks, so I typically don’t feel much stress around their stays, and seldom use words at all to reinforce them.
Interestingly, I DO have an Otis version of “whoa”. I say ‘slooooowly’ in a low, deep tone when I want Otis and/or Sandy to move more slowly and calmly. Now that I think of it, I use it exactly as I would use ‘whoa’- it even sounds similar!
(it’s a handy cue- I use it often on steps and steep inclines when the dogs are leashed and when approaching something potentially dicey off the leash)
Em, I too use “Slooooooooooow” to slow Willie down when he’s away from sheep, and “Steaaaaaaaaaaady” when working. (And how no idea why I came up with using two different cues.) But it works well for us too. (I was trained to say “Eaaaaaaaaaaaaasy” to horses to slow and soothe them, or “Whoooooooaaaaaaaa.”
All these long notes are making me slightly, uh, sleepy. But I’ve made the berry-licious pie and french bread for tonight, done some serious gardening and now it’s time to relax before putting fox-poop stinky Willie into the bathtub. [Is it a rule that they roll in stuff that smell horrific every time before company comes for dinner? It appears to be at Redstart Farm.]
I was reminded of your post today when I walked into a big pet store and the store certified trainer was repeating sit. Then she took the back end of the dog and pushed her in a sit. Oh, how hard to hold my tongue. How do you start with all the things wrong in the scenario? They had no business asking the dog in those conditions in the first place. They set him up for failure. He was clearly uncomfortable.
I just had to plug my ears and walk away.
After more time with this post, I just love the title- addressing that cues often combine information and affect. Thinking about the whole influence of our sounds, how reactions occur in all parties and on multiple levels, is a wonderful thing. In the side note of my comment above where whoa is examined, I think my question stems from wondering what verbal cues are considered when they are in their infancy, before a dog recognizes specific information is being relayed. I came across the idea of a positive interrupter, where a mild sound is added to affect behavior, say interrupt barking at a door, but that avoids any harshness in its presentation. This idea of calling a sound an interrupter resonates with me since my primary goal is to interrupt problematic behavior. Eventually, if ever afforded enough time then I believe an interrupter could beautifully become a cue. Though probably impossible to measure what a sound contains in terms of influence, I think whoa initially affects more than it communicates specific information. So interesting to think about how dogs and humans are always in the process of learning while regulating emotional states, and how knowledge comes to take shape.
Dogs know when guests are coming, and they put on their best cologne for the occasion. I’m convinced you’re absolutely right, Trisha!
Last night we had guests. During the hour and a half run yesterday afternoon (an attempt to tire them out before guests arrived) Argus, the cattle dog mix, rolled in some kind of incredibly aromatic poop (species unknown). (My husband yelling “no! leave it!” repeatedly and ineffectively) He was bathed, but the aroma lingered. And then on our short pre-dinner walk with our guests, Mico, the border collie mix, (who is very fastidious and rarely rolls) decided to roll next to a dead raccoon. Not on it, just next to it (sometimes I think he’s just pretending to be a dog, but can’t bring himself to actually touch that gross thing). He came back only mildly stinky but absolutely covered with ticks.
Fortunately our guests are dog-savvy and spent the rest of the evening folding their arms and leaning forward whenever the dogs approached to be petted. Eventually both dogs gave up and lay down, allowing us to enjoy our dinner without the faint whiffs of eau d’poop and carcass.
They will both be bathed again today. And after our walk later, probably once more. Sigh.
Kerry M. says
Marianna, that bums me out about the sit, sit, sit followed by physical manipulation. I actually just started working at a big box pet store as a trainer and am meeting the other trainers in my district. I love the ones at my store. We have some differences of opinion, of course, but I respect their abilities and results. It’s actually partly why I chose my store. There was another store that had a full-time position open with a trainer who I didn’t think I could trust and partner with. I decided I’d rather do part-time with colleagues who could teach me and who I could unreservedly endorse to potential customers.
I’m actually pretty excited. I felt like I had way too much book learning and very little hands on experience. When I couldn’t find an independent trainer who I liked that needed help, I decided to start with basic obedience in retail while I figured out how to get the experience needed for behavioral issues, which is what I really want to work with.
Great discussion! My nervous-Nellie Great Dane mix responds superbly to tone as a means of affecting his emotional state. A low, drawn out “settttttlllle” helps Duke on walks when he wants to react on another dog. It also keeps my arousal level down so that I can focus on helping Duke instead of worrying about what the other dog is doing.
I use vocal and tactile cues to calm him in other situations, such as at the vet (terribly stressful for Duke who has spent too much time there). Slow, gentle strokes along the chest/back/base of ears and a low, quiet “good boy” or more “settle” helps him to focus and not tip over the edge into total neurotic meltdown. At 9 years old, he seems now to almost look to me for these calming cues. It’s like he’s saying “I’m nervous, are you?” and my response should always be a resounding NO!
Duke and I have a crazy, amazing bond, and he reads me like a book. I need to keep my own emotional state balanced so he will feed off of my calm, assured state of mind. It really does make an incredible difference.
A good example of what NOT to do happened a few weeks ago when we were headed to the vet chiropractor. It was a clinic I had never been to and halfway there, my GPS died. It was a hot day (for Wisconsin in March!) and the A/C in my car was acting up. So there we were, both panting, in the middle of farm country with no clue how to get where we were going. So I called the clinic and the receptionist also had no clue. I was becoming increasingly frustrated, uncomfortable and nervous about missing the appointment.
We finally made it, but by then, poor Duke was a mess. He was feeding off all my nervous energy and never really settled down until we got home. Lesson learned. Had I pulled it together, told myself “settttttlllle” a few times, I think that experience would have been a lot more pleasant for both of us!
Having a very emotional, anxious and reactive dog, I have always believed that “obedience” cues are as much about affecting the emotional state as they are sending an instruction. When Duke’s emotional state is calm, he is much less reactive.
Fox poop has got to be the worst of the poop ‘colognes’, and their pee isn’t a joy either. The best thing I’ve found for a really rank-smelling dog is dishwashing liquid (the sink kind, not the machine kind). Dawn is my preferred brand, but anything with ‘grease-cutting’ on it does a better job than shampoo. I try not to do it often because Otis has a tendency to get dry skin, and I slather on the conditioner afterwards, but desperate times call for drastic measures 🙂
I agree with you when you talk about a maintainence cue. In sidewalkless training with our dogs, we’re taught to stick to the left side of the road, but when there’s a car blocking our path, we’re supposed to go around it on the right side. During this, we’re supposed to be constantly repeating the command, “Left,” over and over again. All the while giving the hand signal for the same command. This is supposed to reenforce the idea to the dog to take us back to the left line of the street as soon as he can. I find it keeps me and my dog calm cause when you’re in the street with no protection from trafic, it can get tense. Also I’ve found myself using a long, low eeeasy, when going down stairs with my dogs. It was interesting which, out of my 3 dogs got it. Marlin got it, but only when I used the command. Otherwise, he’d charge down the stairs and pulled me along. My second guide, Torpedo, slowed down on the stairs and I rarely had to use it with him. My newest guy Seamus picked it up without me having to say anything. I think he read my body language and being part Golden Retriever, he responded to my hesitation on stairs. Now I only use it with him as a reminder.
Beth with the Corgis says
Off-topic, but for a nasty stink I was told by someone who works for a vet to mix baking soda, peroxide, and a tiny bit of dish detergent. Last time I tried it on my dog who got something truly vile on his face, it worked like a charm! He then smelled of peroxide and baking soda, which is not pleasant, but at least the original smell was gone.
Great topic! Before getting into dogs, I was in to horses, and I’ve reschooled a number of off-the-track Thoroughbreds – animals who come off the track fit as a fiddle and wired with hair-trigger reflexes. I discovered that I had taught myself to respond to a horse tensing up by consciously slowing my own breathing, sitting deeper in the saddle and exhaling long, slow breaths. It really helped.
Anyway, we’ve experienced the same weird weather here in the northeast, and your observation about people is brilliant. Your two sentences: “The people that I know who are most connected to the land are both confused on some deeply primal level and frantic about how to get six weeks of gardening/farming/spring chores done in a few days. Others, who live less earth-bound lives, have fewer concerns and are thrilled with an early spring.” As a small farmer who is indeed connected with the land, I struggled with how to respond to folks who thought a week of temps in the mid-80s in early March this far north was anything but downright bizarre. Thank you for those statements, helping to shed light on differing views.
Jen in Durham, NC says
We live in a world where “being listened to” is a rare pleasure. Given this, it can be difficult to gently insist that our dogs listen to us, the first time.
I totally blew it with verbal cues. I repeated myself. Worse yet, I gave a verbal cue and then ignored the fact that my dog was ignoring me (I know that’s OT- sorry).
What has saved me is the fact that my two dogs listen to my physical signals/body language far more than to my voice. I’m relying on hand/body signals now. Somehow, it’s harder to repeat yourself with hand signals. Re-delivering a hand signal takes more effort, and isn’t a natural thing for me to do… as opposed to talking on and on, which IS a natural thing for me to do!!
A friend suggested an alternative approach, of making verbal cues to my dogs in a language not my own. If I had to say, “let’s go!!” in french, I probably wouldn’t repeat it while trying to move my dog and me along during a walk. As I’ve learned the hard way, it’s insane and unfair to select “let’s go” in english, as my sacred cue to my dog to start walking with me. It’s too easy to repeat as we walk along.
Larry C. says
Plum sauce is the secret ingredient in Chinese sweet and sour. Add a little rice vinegar and you are there.
I think I would drive a dog trainer to despair. I haven’t given my dogs a command for weeks. Of course I call them, and they gauge their “come” to make sure they don’t get left behind. They know not to go near the road (paved, but not a highway). We live comfortably together. When I want them to retrieve, I brush them up to make sure they remember how to point and retrieve, but even then, once we are in the field we often will go all morning without a command. We’re friends. A successful retrieve gets a “good dog.” It’s what they do. Like Willie herding sheep, the work is its own reward.
Since they are never on a leash, they make good, responsible choices. They stay away from traffic and equipment, don’t chase livestock, stay on my property, and are mostly just good company. I had to change my farming pattern because they don’t like getting too far from the tractor, and would wear themselves out going miles. Now I pick a small part of a field. Once they figure out where I am going, they feel free to explore, as long as they can stay in sight.
Thank you for the reference to Plenty In Life Is Free! I bought the book and I’m enjoying it very much. I even dug my clicker out from the depths of my junk drawer.
Ooops, the comment on PILIF was meant to go with another blog entry, sorry.
Thea Anderson says
Very interesting article and comments. I trained Sylvie’s recall cue in a high-pitched voice; I sort of sing it out, but I never repeat myself. I did this so the sound would carry long distances and so it would be consistent even if I was panicking about where she was going. She responds reliably now, but only to the high-pitched, sing-song call. Her other cues are in a normal voice, or in the cooing baby-talk register, except for Leave It, which definitely has a note of “or else.”
Deborah Armstrong says
Working my sixth guide dog, I use vocal communication every day. When he speeds up on rough or slippery ground — piles of fallen leaves being the prime example — I push forward on the harness while softly and slowly repeating “Steady”, drawing out the syllables so it sounds more like “Sted dee”. We’re taught to do this because pulling back hard or screeching “steady-steady-steady!” only speeds them up. When I handled dog No. 1, I was young, athletic and didn’t pay much attention to some of the training. I could race up and down unfamiliar stairs, zoom in between closely parked cars and take shortcuts over bumpy burms without fear. Today, with an injured knee which compromises my balance, I’m even calmer in situations where I might fall. Though my current golden retriever guide is only 2, and still a teenager with a driver’s license, we’ve developed a strong and trusting bond because I’ve learned to make my communication super clear.