I think that on every of my runs ever posted to YouTube, somebody will comment "Huh, but she talks A LOT!". I do. And I'm proud of it. I'm proud that my dogs have all the necessary info at all times.
The one to blame for my early and complete info is certainly Bu. She is my little perfectionist who never sets a foot wrong, my amazing Border Collie with no power, drive or accelerations who consistently places among top 4 on World Championships and won European Open last year - only thanks to the efficiency of her lines. As a young dog, she would shut down if she got information where to go next only as she was landing as landing on a spot that wasn't perfect for the next obstacle would make her worry. She forced me to give all the info super early as she likes to land on a perfect spot for the next obstacle and demands to know where the next obstacle after the next one is at all times. Of course, she reads it from my body language too, but since I'm not always on a perfect spot AND because double information is always better as no information, I also give her lots of verbal information. She loves it! She loves to have all the info at all times, she loves me to repeat my cues in order to get extra confirmation that what she is doing is right and she loves me to talk to her to feed from my energy and not worry about other things. Providing her with extra early and complete information is the only way to keep her happy. And it's often the only way to get the perfect lines, especially on European courses of course.
Remember that your dog is your best teacher - nobody knows better how best to train him/her as s/he does!
I guess verbal cues in US got a bad reputation as people were using it as emergency calls when the dog was already on the wrong line. The verbal cues I promote are very far from this - I train the dogs what the cues mean and then use them on a course to prepare them for what happens next – exactly for keeping them on the ideal line the whole time.
My US students often explain me they were told the dogs will tune them out if they talk to them on a course. - Real life experience doesn't confirm it or my dogs would be completely tuned out, based on how much I talk!!! 🙂 I'm pretty sure that whatever video of my dogs you see, you can see they DO respond to my verbal cues. Now, I don't say jump for every jump as I usually have more important things to say, like what is the obstacle after or in which direction to jump it and how. But I do talk pretty much the whole time! And my dogs love it.
Don't repeat cues??? - Of course not if the dog is ignoring them - BUT if he is actually about to do it, you can do that - that's how you put names on behaviours in a first place! What exactly is wrong with saying "tunnel tunnel tunnel" when the dog is running full out to the tunnel? You're just naming the behaviour, right? One can confuse the dog with it? Really? Did you try it? My dogs hear repeated cues over and over again and they are definitely not confused. They are actually brilliant at verbal obstacle discrimination because they hear the cue so many times already in very early stages of training! And, they see it as a confirmation of what they are already doing and therefore LOVE to hear it - it's reinforcing to them. I promise they run faster the more I talk!
I sure talk a lot when I run agility, but I did get into a bad habit of being all quiet and "let them think" when shaping new tricks. It worked fine with my experienced dogs, but it got me in trouble when I got Le, my PyrShep puppy. PyrSheps are not like Border Collies at all. Border Collies are very rational and love to work because they love to work. PyrSheps are very emotional and only love to work because they love to do something with their best friend – they certainly want you emotionally involved at all times and want you to let them know they are the best dogs ever.
So I got this puppy who LOVED to play with me, came racing to me to jump in my arms every time I called her from the first time I used her name, screaming "me, me, me, that must be me!" - and yet she would walk away when I tried to do tricks with her... It just didn't make sense… - why wouldn’t she like tricks??? I taped a session and I noticed an interesting pattern: when we play, I smile and laugh and talk and growl and obviously have fun. And when I switch to food and want to shape tricks my face gets all serious, I sit in silence and stare at my poor puppy. Then it hit me - Le loves to play because I love to play and she hated tricks because I looked like I hated tricks too! No wonder! She is a PyrShep afterall! Her attitude changed from one session to another once I started to smile and laugh and talk as we were figuring out her puppy tricks. And yes, she can think perfectly fine despite my chatter!
Again, I think talking when shaping got a bad reputation as people were trying to help by using cues and putting pressure on the dogs to do that or another thing or trying to animate them to do that or another thing - what is of course NOT what you want to do when shaping a new trick! You do want a dog to offer action on her own and offer the initiative! But you as well don't need to sit in silence, look all serious and never say a word either! Try to smile and laugh at their ideas, have fun and throw a party for the biggest steps forward! Marking jackpots not only with a click but also with a happy party voice will make your voice a very powerful training tool that you certainly want to have!
Making jackpots an important part of my training sure put my dogs in a completely new training speed and it definitely made everything even more fun! It's again Bu who I have to thank for the discovery of the importance of the jackpots. As she was so soft and sensitive and so worried about doing everything right, I had to reward pretty much everything I got to keep her going. - And it's by jackpots I was able to tell her something was extra good!
Even more: jackpots are not only good as extra information to the dog, they have even better side effect - they force YOU to be more enthusiastic, happy and fun trainer rather as sitting there all serious and staring at your dog in silence. I promise you’ll actually have more fun when you get to express how happy you are about the progress of your dog too!
Just try and see what your dog thinks! Remember that your dog is your best teacher - nobody knows better how best to train him/her as s/he does! Don’t believe in myths, but experiment, try and then see, listen to your dog and do what is right for her/him. - That’s the most important thing I learned about dog training!
Silvia Trkman has started agility in 1992 with a Samoyed. She is a 16-time National Champion of Slovenia (with 5 different dogs of 3 different breeds), 14-time World Team member, mostly with two dogs at the time (three last year), 3-time EO winner and 2-time World Champion. You can contact her through her website www.lolabuland.com
coming soon: Dealing with fears