At Pheasant Fest, one part of my “Bird Hunting Boot Camp” talk by far generated the most discussion. Maybe it will spark some thoughts here, too.
I’m not a pro trainer (just ask my dogs!). So I look at things through a different set of eyes. Or in this case ears, because I’m talking about a different way to think about command words.
In my mind simple is better (please refrain from editorial commentary). According to the U.S. Army, your pup could conceivably understand over 200 different commands. But I still give my dogs easy to yell names . . . one or two syllables. (It may be a moot point, though, as all my dogs’ first names end up being “dammit” early in their careers.)
After the name thing was hashed out, I started listening for conflicts with other commands. Call a flashy setter “Beau,” and he might whoa, not hunt on. Rover sounds like “over,” common among retriever handlers but you might use it if you are owned by a dock-tailed dog.
“No” boogers things even more. Momma dog uses “aagh” when she disapproves … why not take advantage of genetics? A behaviorist recently lobbied for “wrong,” which makes sense for its uniqueness, as long as you’re not being judgmental.
My theory: dogs detect vowel sounds and ignore consonants. Testing this on Buddy probably doesn’t prove much except that I’m a bad trainer, but it seems to ring true. One of my friends disputes this and offers various tricky situations where he has tested his dogs (play-stay-hey) and they have learned the difference. More power to ya, Andy, and send me an announcement when your pup graduates Harvard (note to Griffon owners: that was a little joke).
For my money, I’ll play the odds. “Here” yells longer and louder than “come.” Take my word for it. But “heel” and “here” don’t mix, so that command became “walk.” I don’t use “over” when I want my dog to change direction, I use “way.” So my release command can’t be “okay,” or confusion rears its ugly head again. Some dogs think I’m asking them to hold still … “stay.” “Alright” resembles nothing else in the training lexicon.
Which begs another question: why “stay” and “hold?” Tell your dog to stop moving (whoa, hup, sit, down, lay, kennel), and he should do that until further notice. A well-trained retrieve – and one word – means go out, find it, pick it up, and bring it back. “Fetch” becomes one seamless act, not a rambling dialogue between you and your dog.
As I said, I like simple. I majored in music so I’d only have to count to four. If I keep commands simple everyone is happier, whether they can wag or not.