Less is More

Have you ever had a friend you like, who tends toward the talkative? Part of your brain eventually goes on automatic pilot, and while it’s off creating a list for your next supermarket run, it snags on a pertinent word. What’s that you just said about the discounted dog treats? you ask, as your brain snaps back into engagement mode. I often think dogs filter our speech in the same way. So many of us chat to our dogs constantly, and even when giving verbal cues, say things like, “Come on, Buddy, come here now, come on!” And we wonder why dogs just don’t get us sometimes.

I always try to include some training in my early morning walks with my dogs. One of the things Sierra and I practice is that on my verbal cue, she’s to stop what she’s doing—which includes the wolf impression she loves to do as she stalks approaching dogs—and sit in front of me, eyes on me. She’s doing well, as is Bodhi, whose job is, on my cue, to walk by my side and pass other dogs without lunging or barking. As someone who’s naturally chatty, I often make non-training-related, friendly comments to Bodhi and Sierra that I’m certain make no sense to them whatsoever (I’m pretty sure they roll their eyes at each other when I’m not looking). But at the park, I’m doing my best to stop speaking to them, unless I’m giving a specific verbal cue . I’ve curbed the Okay, you can go pee on that phrase that I use with Bodhi quite often, and the Not everyone wants to say hello to you that follows Sierra’s encounters with certain passersby. As a result, my dogs have been paying more attention to the words that do come out of my mouth.

The other morning, as a result of the Jeep being out of commission, my husband and I ended up walking the dogs together. Each time I said something to him, the dogs immediately turned and focused on me. It was a nice surprise, and showed me just how far the “less is more” linguistic strategy has taken us. I don’t recommend that anyone try to curb their love or enthusiasm for their dogs, but reducing your chatter and keeping it to verbal cues your dogs already know, at least out in public, is an experiment worth trying.

8 Responses to Less is More

  1. Steve says:

    “Each time I said something to him, the dogs immediately turned and focused on me.”
    And what did he do? ;)))

  2. jltooks says:

    I have a 2 yr old girlie that came to me at 6mos after being returned to rescue when their punitive trainer’s advice wasn’t working (shocker). Of course, she was a neurotic mess. I had to work a very long time building trust with her, and part of that included speaking to her in an even but happy voice. Since she wasn’t (and still isn’t really) into being touched, probably due to lack of trust and fear of being alpha-rolled, she was pretty responsive to my voice. Going out for walks have been, and surely will be for a while yet, an ongoing process. While she has improved tremendously, you never know when a person or dog will appear unexpectedly. I found pretty quickly that my voice helps her get through a stressful situation. Quite a lot, actually. I can tell that continuous verbal feedback makes a big difference for her. I can see her ears turn back to me as we move past the scary thing and she eases up on her pulling to get away from the scary monster. 😉 I guess in this case it’s not simply a training technique, but more of a strategy to help her cope.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Such words of wisdom! I’m chatty by nature and talk to them ALL the time. No wonder they don’t pay any attention to me 🙂
    We have 3 and just added a 4th – so just starting to walk with a 4th AND the fact that he’s a puppy….let’s just say I’m on the verge of not having any more hair.
    Thanks for your great blog!

  4. canisbonus says:

    Hi Nicolle. I always thought the same (less = more), but I’ve just discovered SATS training, and one of the central points is to talk to your dog, like constantly.

    My dog has always been tough to train (He doesn’t get verbal cues easily. He falls apart when we fade out the hand gesture), and since I’ve started chatting to him more, this seems to have improved for some reason.

    I am curious about SATS. I know nothing about it except for a brief business lunch with a SATS trainer, but it’s made me re-open the less = more paradigm.

  5. Fabulous post. I’m great at this when consciously “in training mode” and horrible at it just hanging out at home. I talk to my dogs WAY too much.

  6. Great advice, I’ve been training dogs for a few years now and less is definitely more! Dogs have quite short attention spans anyway so chatting away for any length of time, (even though they love the sound of your voice) is ultimately counter productive and will only leave them confused if you then expect some kind of response from them. Great blog Nicole


  7. LisaH says:

    I agree completely that less is more in training. When one of my dogs would get on the bed and was not suppose to be on it I would tell him “off” (just once) and stare at his crate …. 1st night it took a long minute for him to hop off the bed. Second night, it took maybe 15 seconds and the 3rd night & thereafer hopped off immediately. We were also taught in agility to not overtalk and one of my favorite exercises is when we are to run the course silently and its amazing how well our dogs do w/o our verbal instructions. Sometimes its more for us than them really,

  8. Harriett says:

    Genuinely no matter if someone doesn’t be aware of then its up to other people that they will help, so here it happens.

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