Over the many years that I have been doing training and behavior work with dogs and their owner/trainers, I have developed a central tenant that I describe in my introduction lecture for classes and at the initial behavior consult. Proper and efficient training and behavior work require Voice, Leash and Hands. These three resources used consistently, in the correct order, with accurate timing is essential to getting the desired results.
Voice includes any auditory signal such as words or patterns of whistles or clicks. The key is they need to be one for each behavior, no variation and be easily differentiated. For example, most English speaking people use “sit” for hindquarters on the ground with forelimbs shoulders and head up. However, Hupp, Setzen or one short even whistle blast are also common. In terms of no variation, don’t use “Sit” sometimes and “Hupp” other times or “please sit.” Try to use the same tone and cadence, don’t let a command become a growl when you get frustrated or short and repetitive (sit, sit, sit) when you get impatient.
Leash means having an appropriate physical connection between dog and trainer. Many people believe that any leash for training is ok, but I disagree. The leash needs to be of fixed length (typical 6’ – no retractable) and leather of appropriate width (weight). Six feet allows for chose work (six to eight inches) when starting training of a command and a reasonable distance to work before going to off lead. Also, it is a manageable length to gather up in one hand without having “floppy bits” that can produce unwanted visual or physical cues as Barbara Woodhouse (famous UK trainer) would say. The key is having the connection to the dog to give gentle cues, keep the dog in proximity when needed, reel the dog in for a “come and call”, etc. Why do I require a leather leash for my clients? First of all, a good well-oiled leash will not burn or cut the hand if pulled through. Also leather has a firmness that gathers well in the hand and again reduces floppiness.
Associated with the leash is the collar. Here again, the right one is critical. For my clients, I require an adjustable sliding ring collar. Non-adjustable sliding ring collars usually are too large with too much “play” between loose and contact cue around the whole neck as well as it is possible for it to easily come off when a dog backs up.
Finally, regarding hands, there are two issues. First, the position of the hands during training. I have observed over the many years the tendency of trainers to raise their hands above the waist causing the dog to jump up, break a stay, wait, sit, down or other command. Also, remember that touch is a reward for most dogs. Don’t forget to hug, pat rub or otherwise “love up” your dog when they do well.