Most people have been to one or more rock concerts throughout their lifetime. I myself am a die-hard fan of U2 and had the chance to watch the Irish band playing in Lansing, MI, in 2011. It is quite a spectacle. The lights, the giant screens, the band playing their hearts out on stage, the loud music and thousands of fans singing along. An unforgettable experience. But did you ever try to say something to the person next to you in the middle of a loud rock concert? It’s funny because you pretty much have to scream into their ears to be heard, yet that does not mean you will be understood. Plus chances are your friend would rather keep listening to the music than to you.
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While I would totally write about U2 and rock concerts all day, today I actually want to talk about communication. We have established that it is very hard to have any kind of verbal communication with someone in an environment like a loud rock concert. Well, it turns out the #1 complaint I hear from dog owners is “my dog doesn’t listen to me”, or “my dog only listens when there are no distractions around”.
Okay, let’s talk about distractions. You probably know what gets your dog distracted. Other people, other dogs, cats, squirrels, toys, food, the mailman, and the list goes on. Fido is told to come back from the yard, but there’s a squirrel that Fido wants to chase. Good luck getting him back inside. Sounds familiar?
So why won’t your dog listen to you when you call? He heard you, didn’t he? Certainly. A dog’s hearing is several times better than that of a human’s. And don’t even get me started on their sense of smell. One of my mentors in dog trainer school explained that a dog can “sniff” its world and capture all sorts of scents at an intensity such as the one we humans feel when we arrive at our relative’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and the room is filled with the aroma of turkey roasting. Very distracting.
So, for a dog that is distracted by the sight, sounds and smells of its favorite thing (a squirrel, for example), that is just like being at a rock concert. You are calling him back, he doesn’t come. It’s as if you were trying to whisper something to someone in the midst of the loud music, but your message gets lost on the way. Your lines of communication with your dog break down.
In a loud concert, you will raise your voice to bridge that gap and get your message across in spite of the noise. But how can you compensate for the “noise” in your dog’s head, i.e., getting him to listen to you regardless of any distractions? Obviously you cannot be literally yelling at your dog all the time. That’s when the appropriate choice for a training tool comes into play.
Many people tend to try to get their dog’s attention using a bribe like a treat or a toy. While I believe training dogs with treats and toys can be effective in some situations, it is often done incorrectly by the average dog owner, causing the dog to only listen IF or WHEN there is a visible reward for doing so, such as a cookie. See, you cannot whisper something to someone at a rock concert and expect to be understood. You need to raise your voice just loud enough to be heard. The same goes for your dog – you are trying to “whisper” to your dog in the middle of the “loudest” distraction, and using a cookie or a tennis ball might still not be “loud enough” for your dog to listen to you and get the message.
An all-around better way of approaching the problem is teaching your dog that there is a reward for doing what you say, but there is also a consequence for choosing not to do what you said. This approach should also teach your dog to respond to you in spite of any distractions (squirrels, Irish rock bands….just kidding.) It is fundamental to form a two-way communication channel with your dog and to be able to adjust it so it can adapt to any environment with low or high distractions.
Many common dog behavior issues – such as selective hearing and failing to come when called – is caused by poor communication, and it can get frustrating for both dog and owners. At Excellence
Canine, one of the training tools that we use to solve that problem is a high-quality remote training collar (or e-collar) such as the Mini Educator by Ecollar Technologies. This particular device delivers a very gentle, medical-grade stimulation just like the one used by chiropractors. It is a great tool that, when used correctly, can vastly improve the communication channel you have with your dog.
It can be adjusted and fine-tuned to each dog, so that we can find what we call their “working level” – the lowest setting a dog will respond to without causing any kind of distress (yelping, shaking, etc). From there, we are able to adjust the stimulation level up or down to match the level of distraction. So, figuratively, the e-collar allows you to have a “voice” that’s “loud enough” for your dog to listen to you in distracting situations. This enables you to send a clear message to your dog, who will start understanding what you want and how to get rewarded with your praise and affection.
And when your dog starts listening to you and takes pride and joy in doing commands and trying to please you, when those annoying behavior issues become a thing of the past and when you have an effective yet gentle tool like the e-collar to help you in the process, your entire relationship with your dog will blossom and he/she will become a bigger part of your life and your family’s life, being able to go more places, have off-leash adventures and enjoy life with you more, because you know he/she will come when you call them back. You have bridged that communication gap, your message to your dog is loud enough to be heard and understood in spite of all the “noise” and distractions. Now that’s Rock and Roll.