If you spend enough time around me, especially in dog related settings, you may notice that you pick up a few words from me. One or two of my clients have noticed this for sure. These words may be a matter of semantics, because no matter what I say, I will still train the same way, but being mindful of my words helps me to stay in the right mindset. This helps me to be true to myself, as you may recall, is a big reason why I chose this name for my business. Real Terms indeed.
Cue vs. Command. What does the word command bring to mind for you? For me, it sets the stage for a militant handler, a "you better listen or else" type. One of the hallmarks of clicker training is that the dogs are given the choice to listen! Since listening to us gets them what they want, they listen more often. A cue is simply information that we give the dog, information that by doing a behavior that is associated with that signal, they will earn something they want. They don't obey out of fear, they listen just in case this time is one where they get a treat. Sometimes, the line is still blurred. There are plenty of kind handlers who talk about commands, but are not enforcing them with force. I mean, I even sometimes have to remind my dog a couple of times to lie down when he is distracted. However, he gets treats in these situations and will offer it more willingly the next time. It truly is a mindset to get into. What happens if the dog doesn't listen? With a command, the handler raises their voice and may threaten punishment. With cues, the handler looks at why the dog didn't listen, and takes it as a learning experience of what to train more in the future before putting the dog into that situation again.
Reinforcement vs. Reward. This is an important one. A reward is chosen by the giver. The receiver may have a couple of choices, but it is ultimately not their decision. Sometimes rewards work and sometimes they don't, depending on the value and how much the receiver actually wants it. The example I use is if my co-worker wanted me to stay on top of paperwork, she decides to reward me with Sweet-tarts. I don't ever seek that type of candy out, so it is not terribly motivating to me. A reinforcement, on the other hand, is always chosen by the learner or receiver, and they are the only one who can decide if something is reinforcing or not. Sometimes, it even depends on the environment. A dog may work well at home for kibble, but might need boiled chicken when working in public. Some dogs will work for praise, although usually not in a high distraction environment. Most dogs will work for food, and some prefer to work for a toy. It usually depends on context. A dog who is outdoors might want to work for a Frisbee. Or, a dog might not be hungry and won't find food terribly exciting, even if they normally love it. I usually don't find pie as reinforcing after eating a giant Thanksgiving dinner as I do the next day for breakfast. Back to my example, if my coworker wanted to reinforcement paperwork done on time, she could bring me coffee, or tacos, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Manners vs. Obedience. I still talk about obedience, because it is what people know and understand, but I try to gently guide clients towards manners instead. It's another one of those word choices that makes me think. Obedience is a good thing, until the dog is offering it because they are too scared not too or have been pushed hard into it. Truly, most of my clients don't actually want obedience. They want a dog who can make good choices and just be a cool member of the family. When I look at criteria that a clients wants, most don't need their dog to snap to to listen. They want their dog to be calm, to greet guests nicely, not to beg at the table and to walk nicely on a leash. They might not actually ever need a dog who walks at a perfect show ring heel. They just want their dog to not be pulling their arm like crazy or to be wrapping them in a leash. We have made a cultural shift away from using the word obey in marriage vows. Most parents and teachers don't expect kids to be obedient either. They want kids to be respectful, to listen to expectations and to face the positive or negative consequence of their choice. Our dogs are the same way.
I even sometimes think about the cues I use in my own dog training. I realized, not too long ago, that my Leave-It cue had been poisoned, or made to have a negative connotation to my dog. Not that I even ever punished him harshly, but even raising my voice hurt his feelings. So, we retrained it, and not call it Mine/Trade. He leaves what I don't want him to have with the knowledge that he will get something he really likes.
At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter which words we use, as long as we are kind to our dogs. We owe it to them to be patient, to be allowed to make good choices, after those choices have been heavily reinforced. Our dogs are going to love us as long as we are fun and kind to them.
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.