Are you training your dog to do a specific action but running into problems with it? There can be a variety of reasons, and a variety of solutions for this common situation. Here I want to talk about one solution.
This came up as I was emailing with a woman who recently adopted a rescue dog. The dog is wonderful in most ways but did come with some emotional baggage. For some reason, she gets frightened when her new person tells her, “Lay down.”
I suggested that she try a new phrase, one that doesn’t sound like lay or like down. Nor should it should like sit, stay, or other common training words. The word that came to my mind that she could use to teach the dog to lie down was…
Of course, it’s up to the woman to choose a word she likes. I think I liked Christmas because it has a lot of happy connotations for me, so if I were saying it to a dog, it would automatically have a jolly ring to it. It is a time of lots of treats, too, and it may take a lot of treats to get this little dog willing to lie down.
By the way, I titled this blog post with “command or cue” because command is the traditional way of describing words like come, sit, stay, etc. But with the shift to more collaboration with our dogs as we show them what we want, many people now prefer the word cue.
Of course, it isn’t just about the words. The woman may need to experiment with different ways of showing the dog the down. For example, using clicker training and progressively rewarding approximations of the dog going down could work well. Or teaching the down while the human is sitting on the floor might be useful if the reason the dog is afraid of going into the down position has to do with someone threatening her while standing over her in her previous living situation.
Back to the value of using another command or cue word: one of the most powerful examples of this approach was developed by dog trainer Leslie Nelson, whose Really Reliable Recall method has saved a lot of dogs’ lives… that link goes to another page of mine about the method. What’s pertinent here is she has you teach the recall (coming when called) with a special secret word that always gets highly rewarded.
Our Rottweiler Lola has known the word come since she was a puppy. And she’s really quite good about coming when one of us says it. But let either of us say “DOGGIES!!!” and Lola will come running from anywhere in our large yard. At top speed, eagerly. That’s because I taught her — also when she was still a puppy — that doggies meant “Something very delicious is waiting for you.”
Now I don’t actually recommend that you use doggies in this way. It’s not the best word, as it does get said in everyday conversation, as in “Have you fed the doggies?” I would suggest a more unusual word. But we kind of grew into doggies!! by accident, back in Lola’s puppy days. I have always used it to call my dogs when I want both of them to come to me. Lola responded so enthusiastically that it just naturally became her special recall word. And she STILL always gets a treat when she comes after we say it.