This is the ‘Pair It’ stage of my:
‘Get It’, ‘Pair It’, ‘Teach It’ dog training system.
It’s all about helping your puppy make sense of what you say.
The language barrier between man and dog
There is a language barrier that exists between man and dog.
Before we can begin to expect ‘obedience’ from a dog, we need to overcome that barrier.
People and puppies have very different communication styles.
The importance of body language to dogs
People like to communicate using speech. Dogs on the other hand, like to communicate through body language.
Fortunately, dogs are clever enough to learn to understand our spoken language
At least in a limited way.
And they do it, quite like we do, by pairing actions or object with sounds or visual signals
So the word ‘ball’ becomes associated with a your dog’s favorite red ball
And the word ‘sit’ becomes associated with that action of sitting
Learning through association ‘Pair It!’
Learning the meaning of a sound comes through repeatedly hearing that sound in association with a particular object or activity.
If you say ‘dinner’ often enough whilst pouring food into his bowl, your dog will come to associate the word ‘dinner’ with being fed.
Repetition speeds your dog’s learning
How quickly your puppy comes to make this association depends partly on his natural ability to learn.
And partly on the frequency with which this new sound is paired together with the object or activity in question, in an relaxed and happy environment
Experiments have shown that this ‘pairing’ process doesn’t work so well if your puppy is stressed.
This is one of the reasons why modern dog training has largely abandoned punishment and incorporates many rewarding experiences for the dog
Building our cue
The objective of this second stage in training is to build up an association, in your dog’s mind, between an action that you want the dog to perform, and the signal to which you want him to respond.
Behaviourists usually refer to this signal as a ‘cue’. Dog trainers, especially traditional trainers, are more likely to call it a ‘command’.
Building associations the old way
Traditionally, dog trainers would try and build this ‘association’ or understanding of the meaning of a word, at the same time as teaching an ‘obedient response’ to the new word.
They would commence training a dog by giving a ‘command’ and then forcing or manipulating the dog into a particular position or action.
For example, we used to say ‘SIT’ to a puppy, and then push his bottom into a sitting position, we might also have given a recall command ‘HERE’ and then reeled the puppy in towards us using a long line or lead.
The old methods worked.
Eventually, the puppy would make an association between the action required and the activity that he was being forced into.
But these methods had some disadvantages.
The drawbacks of traditional manipulative dog training methods
It is actually very distracting to be pushed around physically.
If someone pushed you unexpectedly into a chair, whilst saying a word you haven’t heard before, you might even feel quite annoyed with them.
The chances are, you probably wouldn’t even remember hearing the word they shouted in your ear when they pushed you.
You certainly wouldn’t leap into the nearest chair the next time you heard it.
Unsurprisingly, most people resist if they are pushed. Their instinctive reaction is to push back. Dogs are just the same. And being pushed for no apparent reason is incredibly confusing.
Speed up your dog’s learning!
Young dogs, and sensitive dogs, can become quite stressed and even distressed by these traditional techniques.
And learning can be quite a slow process. With a determined dog it can develop into a battle of wills which one of you eventually loses.
With an anxious dog it can cause a lot of upset.
Modern dog trainers have therefore adopted a different approach. And that is what Stage Two ‘Pair It!’ is all about.
It is a different way of thinking, and it has been shown to speed up learning in these early stages.
Building associations the new way
In modern dog training, we build an association between our signal and the action we want the dog to perform, without touching him or pushing him around.
We simply say the word, whilst he is carrying out the action required. And we do this over and over again until the connection is solid.
Each time your dog runs towards you at speed you say ‘HERE’, each time he sits in front of you, you say ‘SIT’.
You are not asking or telling him to run towards you, you are simply offering him your word for that action.
You are gently teaching him how to understand English.
Don’t ask – see the behavior first – then offer the word
The crucial difference with this type of training is that you don’t ask the puppy, or tell the puppy, to sit.
You don’t need to say anything to him at all!
You simply describe for him, the position he is in, or the action he is taking.
For example, as he moves into the sit position, by giving him your word. Crisply, clearly, and plainly. ‘Sit’.
This enables him to learn and soak up this new language, free from distraction or confusion.
Building an understanding of language
Unlike the old method, it also ensures that your ‘signal’ word is never associated with any activity other than the action you require.
Gently and without force, you are building an understanding of your verbal language in your dog’s mind.
Preparing for obedience
This whole process of understanding the meaning of a word, is completed, before we begin to use the word as any kind of signal, and before we expect any kind of obedience or response to it.
It is the perfect preparation for Stage 3 ‘Teach It!’ The stage where you teach your dog to respond to a command.
Stage 3 is so much easier to complete, because you now make sense to your dog.
How do I get a dog to SIT if I can’t say SIT
That’s a good question! If you need the dog to carry out the action of his own free will, you’ll be wondering how you get him to SIT or COME in the first place.
There may be opportunities during the course of a normal day to practice some of our word associations, but others will need to be contrived or ‘set up’ .
We use techniques such as ‘shaping’, ‘capturing’, and ‘luring’ for this purpose. You can read about capturing and luring in ‘three ways to teach your puppy to sit’ and shaping is covered in this article.
These are all kind, fun methods to get a dog to adopt a position, or carry out an action or sequence of actions
Stage Two is about language. It’s the part of training where we teach dogs what the words and signals we use mean.
We teach our dogs the meaning of a word or signal by pairing that signal with a particular action.
Stage Two is built upon Stage One, in the same way that Stage Two prepares the dog for ‘obedience’ which begins in Stage Three.
Remember, Stage Two is about language, not obedience. Just ‘Pair It!’ and let your dog soak up the meaning of your words.
To find out how the ‘Get It!’ ‘Pair It!’ ‘Teach It!’ system works for individual skills, check out our training guides and this introduction to modern dog training
Don’t forget to share your own dog training adventures in the comments box below!