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Do What I Do, Not What I Say

Author: | Date: July 23, 2012

One question repeatedly comes up in our training classes: “Why don’t we use a verbal command when we are first teaching a new behavior to our dogs?”

The answer is based on learning theory and psychology and is called “overshadowing.”

In simple terms though, we need to present a clear picture of what we are asking our dogs to do.

If there is too much going on at once, we muddy up the delivery of our request.  And which one of our actions is the dog paying attention to?  For example, if we move a food treat from our dog’s nose backwards over his head to lure a sit, and say “sit” at the same time, is the dog responding to the word “sit” said in the strange gibberish that does not sound like any sound a dog would make…. or the smelly, yummy treat moving away from his mouth? The treat, of course! A dog responds to the most obvious and compelling element in its environment.

The word “sit” was drowned out by the smell of the treat and added nothing to the learning process.  If we keep saying “sit” when it is having no consequence on our dogs’ behavior, the sound of the word becomes irrelevant to our dogs.  That in turn will make it harder to teach our dogs to respond only to the verbal command when we reach that stage, which is not until our dogs are already offering the behavior reliably.

 


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