Do puppies understand English?
Why does it matter? Well it doesn’t, not really. But in an ideal world, your dog should be able to distinguish between different commands and act on your voice alone. This can be useful, such as when you are out of sight, or have your hands full, or just when you want to show off how clever your puppy is! Mainly we do this as a test, to demonstrate that they are listening to us and focused on what we want.
The video demonstrates clearly that Ounce has heard me command her into a ‘down’, thought about it and decided to do it. Good girl! I then go on to demonstrate some commands that she is not quite so sure about, ‘twist’ and ’round’. With both of these I need to reinforce the voice command with a gesture. That’s fine, we’ll continue to work on these. You can see when I go to give her the ‘twist’ command that I give her a chance to do it without the physical prompt. She ‘offers’ me something, (lying down) which I ignore. This is called ‘shaping behaviour’ – we wait for the puppy to offer something, hold out till they get it right, then give a big reward.
I started this today with Ounce (just a few minutes before we took this video). Hold out the lid, wait for her to touch it with her nose, ‘click’ or say ‘yes’ and reward. Repeat. And repeat, moving the target once she has done it a few times. Clever eh?
Yes, but what’s the point? Again, this is shaping training. Waiting for her to do something, to offer a behaviour, then rewarding it so that it is reinforced. The reason we do this is so that I can move the target to somewhere and she will go over to it. This could be used for all sorts of things.
A target doesn’t have to be a lid, it can be anything. You can do it by holding out one hand flat, making sure you reward from the other hand. Or you can use the end of a stick. This is how people train dogs and other animals to follow them, or go in a circle around them. All kinds of tricks start off this way.
For Ounce, I am already thinking about agility. If she is used to touching the target, I can place it at the bottom of a piece of contact equipment and she will run down the ramp, or the seesaw and touch it with her nose. This will help me to teach her to go to the bottom and not jump off halfway down.
I am fortunate to know the brilliant Smurf and his owner Sarah, so have been getting some tricks training tips from them. Smurf is a Guiness World Record holder for the most tricks in one minute, so they really know what they are doing! You can watch Smurf’s World Record yourself.
A couple of other bits of training progress
If we were going to do competitive obedience, this would be one of the exercises. It’s good to be able to turn your back on your dog and be confident that they will carry on waiting. Again, this will be used in agility, when I put her on the start line and try to get a head start. I go back to her and reward her, so that she doesn’t anticipate the recall. And yes, if you do obedience, she is a bit crooked as she comes in this time (not usually). I would also train her to come around to the ‘heel’ position for obedience, but I don’t need to do that. I’m not especially keen to do competitive obedience as in my opinion it is a bit boring for the dog and the heelwork is such a forced position.
This is where we have got to with our stay training. I mentioned in a post almost a month ago about training progress that there are all sorts of ways to ‘strengthen’ the waits and this is me demonstrating (rather comically) one of the aspects we have worked on. What do you think? She doesn’t look very impressed, does she? If I persist with her training, she should be able to wait while I throw the toy I am waving about…
I am so loving this puppy. Ounce is incredibly sweet-natured and easy going. I am really proud of the way that she walks along with me, then rushes to say hello to everyone, but will stop and turn back if I’m quick enough to call her. Or she does go up to people, but usually now stops herself from jumping up. She is polite with dogs she meets and so far, comes back brilliantly. Lots to work on, but lots of progress made.