Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sit. Good Dog. Good Sit.

We praise our dogs when they do something correctly and our praise tends to be something like “good girl” or “good dog”. Because we usually pet our dogs at the same time, we condition them to understand “good dog” means affection will follow. That being said, some dog owners are overzealous and decide to throw in the cue with the word “good”, which brings us to the topic of the day: Good Dog. Good Sit.
When you ask your dog to perform a behavior (sticking with the “sit” example) the goal is to get them so used to performing that behavior on cue that they could do it anywhere, anytime regardless of distractions.  So if I ask my dog to sit and I’ve previously rewarded him with “good boy” when he completes that task, then he understands he has done well. If I were to ask my dog to sit, he complies, then I say, “good boy! good sit!” technically, he should sit again because I just issued the cue. Agreed? People often think that saying “good sit” will convey to the dog that his behavior was sit and it was performed to the level of “good,” which is not what the dog thinks. He understands “good” to be a marker of the behavior he performed - the one that achieved him the reward of affection, treats, etc. 
Dogs win the grand prize when it comes to tuning people out. Husbands, girlfriends, kids - no one can hold a candle to dogs.  They hear so much of our banter on a regular basis that they’ve learned exactly when to ignore us. When we use the words “Good Sit” we are using a word that is a cue for Sit Your Butt Down. Your dog hears this and may or may not comply.  Chances are good you didn’t notice you said sit that second time so you don’t reward them. They soon learn “when she says Good Sit, it doesn’t mean anything.” You’ve now trained your dog to make a judgement call about when to listen to your cues. While we are always striving to create a “thinking” dog with clicker training, we don’t want a dog who second guesses a cue and its consequences.  We want our dogs to understand that every time they hear the cue, they should perform the behavior and in return, a reward.
So, yes, it sounds nit-picky. If you’re wanting a dog with proofed behaviors, though, you have to pay attention to the things you as a dog owner might be doing to affect their performance.

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