Dog training is a form communication. We attach meaning to cues, signals, or commands to convey information to get our dogs to do what we’d like them to do. In this podcast Dr. Roger Abrantes and I discuss whether the words you use to describe dog training affect your relationship with your dog.
Dr. Abrantes is a dear friend of mine, a scientist, an expert in dog training, a blogger, and someone I very much admire. His experience and knowledge goes way beyond dog training. Roger’s formal education is that of an evolutionary biologist, however, as a well traveled citizen of the world who has lived in places such as Denmark, Portugal, Thailand, and Africa, he has also become a de facto expert in languages, and communication in general.
Words always come along with some sort of association. For example, when requesting a behavior from a dog, such as “high five” or “shake”, many people will tell you they are giving the dog a command. Dr. Abrantes explains that the word “command” has a militaristic connotation. A command is something that is issued and must be obeyed. No questions asked. Disobedience to a command in many cases must be severely punished. But is that really how you see your fun little request to shake your dog’s paw? Must she obey? Or, more accurately, are you simply requesting a friendly interaction with your best friend, or practicing a routine you learned in a dog training session? Is non-compliance truly a punishable offense? Shake is a friendly gesture after all.
Roger points out that before a command becomes a command it is a signal. A dog cannot obey a command he does not understand.
He believes that when we are interacting with, and communicating with our dogs it’s just like communicating with a friend or colleague. We generally don’t command each other but rather signal back and forth in a friendly and reciprocal fashion.
We also discussed whether other words commonly used as dog training vernacular, such as “obey”, should really have a place in describing the partnership that takes place between a human and a trained dog. Especially how often when people use the word “punishment” what they really mean is they are seeking “revenge”.
It was a fascinating conversation, and I hope you’ll tune in below and join in the conversation. Roger and I will be taking questions and entertaining your input in the comments section below.