This is the question I am asked most often. Whether it is to teach Fido to sit, stay, walk to heel or recall, people look for advice on how to teach certain behaviours. Well here’s my take …
Fido wasn’t born understanding English (or any other language!). So, if you say “Sit!” to Fido, he won’t have a clue what you’re talking about – until he has learned to associate that word with putting his bottom on the floor. So there’s no point in repeating “Sit! Sit! Sit!” to Fido and trying to force his bottom on the floor. He will be confused and potentially anxious.
What we do is to tell Fido what he is doing once he’s doing it! Sound odd? We engineer the behaviour we want and then tell Fido what the associated word is.
Using the sit as an example, we use a food treat to lure Fido to us, keeping our hands low. As he comes in close, we raise our treat hand to our chin encouraging eye contact, Fido sits and we say “Sit!”. Voila! After doing this many times, he will associate the word with the action and now the word can now be used as a command. And this method can be used to shape all the basic behaviours.
Think about it: this method ensures Fido never fails, he only hears the correct word when he’s doing the correct thing, you minimise the use of your voice and Fido only hears the word once (instead of the usual multiple commands we tend to give, which just encourages Fido to ignore!).
It’s called shaping a behaviour by association. It’s easy, fast and it works. Soon, Fido will understand your key words, whether in English or Cantonese!