ESL for dogs: Effective communication

Yesterday, I saw a woman with a small dog that wanted to bark at everything that moved. Here’s what happened:

(Bark!) “Bella, no.” (Bark!) “Bella, no.” (Bark bark!) “Bella, no.” (Bark!) “Bella, no.” (Bark bark!) “Bella, no.” (Bark bark bark!) “Bella, no.” (Bark!) “Bella, no.”

What’s wrong with this scenario? The woman gives no consequence for the barking and does nothing to teach the dog an alternative behavior. The repeated words “Bella, no” are meaningless, and clearly, Bella persists in doing exactly what she wants to do. The owner is actually rewarding the barking by using the dog’s name and giving attention each time Bella barks. You’ve probably seen the Far Side cartoon where a man is shouting, “Stay out of the garbage, or you’re in trouble, Ginger, do you hear me? I mean it, Ginger!” and what the dog hears is, “Blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah Ginger.”

Learning to “speak dog” means shifting from normal human communication–lengthy, linear sentences–to short commands, given one time only. Some trainers advise that you not say the dog’s name along with the command but only as an “attention getter.” A command of one syllable, such as sit, stay, chase, find, and so on, is more likely to help your dog understand what you want than something like “run-down-the-hall-and-get-the-ball-and-bring-it-back-for-me-got-that-good-dog”.

2 responses to “ESL for dogs: Effective communication

  1. You’ve got great insights about dog training, keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks very much, Daniel! 🙂

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