The tone of voice in dog training is key, according to the woman on the radio this morning who sounded like Joanna Lumley’s slightly less posh sister.
She said “soft, gentle, positive and consistent” and I thought “Hmmm. I suppose I’ve been positive…”
…Positive as in “STOP ITTT!! GEDDAWAY FROM IT NOW!!!!”
This, bellowed across a very large field loud enough to make the dog in the distance – my Springer Spaniel – stop rolling joyously in a delectable dollop of fox shit.
Rolls would stand briefly, look around to see where the voice was coming from, clock me looking familiar but a lot smaller than usual (far away) and calculate that he could get at least another two good long rubs of fox dirt into his collar before, even running at the speed you run when you are quite cross, I could get to him.
When I got to him, he would dance away with glee, stinking. I could smell it even in the fresh air with a force 5 blowing and knew for certain that would only shift with the deep-cleansing effect of neat Fairy Liquid and a watering can full of warm water.
The other thing I can do with my voice with dogs – always other people’s dogs – is to get them hopelessly over-excited and playful
“Ooooh aren’t you a gorgeous boy/girl!!” usually gets the tail wagging and a pleased look. Some dogs will actually smile back. I knew a dalmatian which smiled properly – well, when I saw properly, she stretched her upper lip over her upper gums, which is cute in a dog but probably quite alarming in a new boyfriend.
Further scruffing and general playing leads to a frenzy of excitement. Friends with dogs generally don’t want me over-exciting their dogs in the home. It leads inescapably to widespread leaping on and off sofas, fetching of glamorous footwear they are not usually allowed to touch and humping cushions. Dogs always start humping things when they get over-excited and dog owners definitely don’t welcome mounting excitement. I didn’t in our house, although I found that male dogs got all Walrus of Lurve with their bedding after dinner without any excitement at all.
My dogs got stupidly and recklessly excited at Christmas over their Christmas stockings (but let’s face it, who doesn’t?) and when we were Doing Training. Springer spaniels make superb police and customs dogs because every day they get to play their favourite game – finding things.
Somehow or other it came naturally to speak in a low steady voice when you were setting them up for something, telling them to stay or wait while I went to hide the object they had to find.
When I walked back into the kitchen Roly, my last springer, would be like a coiled spring, quivering with excitement waiting for the “Go find” command (in a low and pent-up tone… think covert Jack Bauer ) and he’d do a very efficient speedy search, tail wagging faster than you could see, for the hidden toy.
But none of my dogs have been saintly, like my mum’s Pembroke Corgi, St Buster who never peed in the house or otherwise put a saintly paw wrong.
Scamp, my first springer was a born gundog who was never gundog trained and left in the house for far too long, with the result that he ate my kitchen matting, shredded the post – cheques included – and any available plants.
He was the dog that illustrated that dogs really do understand every single thing you say and they can predict your reaction.
I would walk into the kitchen from work to find a plant deconstructed all over the floor and see Scamp in his basket looking the other way, his tail beating hopefully in the most muted kind of “I know this looks bad, but I got carried away” type of greeting.
When I groaned he’d bury his head under his bedding. The guilt was obvious.
On the plus side, he learned to roll over when I encouraged him in a bright positive voice, and got used to leaping over fallen trees in the wood on the command “Over” while I tried to get an action shot with my first digital camera and he was very good at fetching stuff… branches, small trees etc etc. Mostly stuff I hadn’t asked him to fetch, come to think of it..
It’s not just dogs that know what you’re saying to them – cats do too although their reactions are very different. They’re exceptionally good at listening – the twitch of the ears are a dead giveaway – but rarely obey anything and if you want them to do anything much in a hurry they get easily confused.
But there’s one word, uttered in a high-pitched drawn-out tone which is guaranteed to get Fat Lily and Leo coming running…