Teaching in Silence, does it work? Find out here and then try for yourself.

Fact: Teaching in silence works.
As many of you know, I teach most behaviours silently for a number of reasons.

His Brain

Firstly: Whilst your dog has a number of areas in his brain that deals with language, none of them deal with language in the same way that humans do. The words we say are just sounds to your dog.
In addition, each one of us is unique. Our voices have different inflections and we move our bodies in different ways. Your dog’s eyesight is extremely good at spotting movement and, therefore when you say particular words, you move your body in a specific way too.
For instance: Maybe you twitch your nose when you say his name. Or you could shrug your shoulders when you ask for a sit or raise your eyebrow when you ask him to spin. Whatever it is, you body language is unique to you.

Body Language

Secondly: Your dog relies more on body language than sounds. So when you ask your dog to perform some action, your dog usually looks at you to work out what you want. At first, they will not be listening to the sound you make.
When your dog does start to associate the behaviour with your body language and the sound you make, it is still unique to you and others in your household won’t be the same.
So when your partner says that the dog doesn’t like them because it never does what they ask, it has nothing to do with like or dislike and more to do with the dog not understanding what is being asked. Remember the timbre of their voice is different as is the body language.

Multi-tasking

My third reason for teaching as much as I can silently is that dogs are no more capable of truly multi-tasking than us. When you are trying to learn something and somebody is nattering away at you, you either stop so you can listen or you ask them to go away. Why then, should a dog who doesn’t have language, be able to concentrate and learn when you are talking to him?

Repetition

And finally, I hate it when people say “sit, sit, sit, sit, sit”. If the dog doesn’t do it the first time, he either has no idea what you are talking about or is not actually listening or watching you. This means that you are not only wasting your breath, but your could be teaching your dog to actually sit when your voice reaches a certain pitch or you have said it 6 times! Not useful at all.

So what is the benefit of teaching in silence?

I mostly teach in silence because I have found that the puppy picks things up much quicker once it starts to focus on you and think. You can actually see the dog trying different behaviours to see whether it will work and he will get what he wants. In effect, it is shaping in the same way that some clicker training works. Our speech is, in effect, just white noise most of the time.

I find the dog is calmer and that the learning is more stable. Mainly, I think, because the dog has started to build their own neural pathways in their brain.

When I do not use silence?

Praise is not silent and always comes with a smile.

There are certain situations when a dog will need constant reassurance that they have got it right. For instance, when I am starting with a tiny puppy, I always start the ‘walking on a loose lead’ training without a lead at all (remember I am at the person’s house and we are not in a field). We teach the puppy where the zone of reinforcement is located and progress as fast at the puppy’s pace. But sometimes, if I visit an older puppy for the first time or an older dog and they are already going out regularly, I don’t want to feed a constant stream of treats, so I will utilise a very happy ‘yes’ or ‘Good boy/girl’ when the dog is in the correct position.

I also use the specific word if I am trying to capture a naturally occurring behaviour that I will later want to put on command. For instance, ‘speak’ or a command that tells the dog, I want it to go to the toilet.

I don’t usually use silence for a recall either. I still only say the word once whether I am teaching it as a fun game or I am using conditioning.

Stay is another command that I use right from the beginning if I am actually going to use a word. For some people, a Sit or Down will mean the dog stays in that position until released. In this situation the word ‘stay’ is not required.

Commands suitable for teaching in silence

Here are a list of behaviours I regularly teach without words at the beginning:

Sit

Down

Stand

Heel

Leave

Do not to enter a room

Not to go through a door

Stay in the cage, even if the door is open

Not to go upstairs

Release the toy

On your bed, or in your cage.

When to add the word.

Science has taught us the optimum point to add the command. Therefore, when I think the dog has got the behaviour reliably, I will add the verbal command at the point the behaviour starts. For instance, if the dog is going to sit, say it at the point the body starts to move into position.

Conclusion

However, I often feel that by commanding our dogs, they are reactive to that and wait for the command. If you let them work it out using cues from their environment, I think they become better mannered, calmer and able to make the right decisions. This leaves one less thing for the owner to think about. In this day and age when life is busy and stressful, one less thing to think about is very welcome.

Interesting blog and experiment for you.

Jill Breitner has written an interesting article for Dogster with an experiment for you using body language. Here is a link: Dogster

So have a go at teaching in silence and let me know how you get on. If you want some help with how to do it, just send me a message.

Remember to make training fun for both of you and use very short training sessions. Your dog will be happier and learn quicker, I promise.

Karen

From Peaceful Pups.