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The Sound of Silence

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Silence is a cue.  It means, “You are right; keep on with what you are doing.”

If you sit your dog, leave, and then face your dog, then your silence means he should continue to sit and wait; it is the cue to keep going.

If you send your dog to fetch and then wait quietly, then your silence cues him to continue – that he is correct in his current path.

If your dog is cued to sit, down, stand, and then to recall?  If you are silent between cues it means….

You’ve got it.  Keep going.  You’re right.  You’re a star!

So how do you teach it?

The same way you teach any cue; with reinforcement for correct behaviors under successively more challenging conditions!

If silence follows a single cue that you have given, like asking your dog to sit, and you want to reinforce both the sit and then the silence, then you will reinforce as such: sit, cookie, silence, cookie,  silence, cookie….

You are teaching your dog that silence means to continue on.

And in a chain?

That similar. Now you will give two cues before you reinforce. For example, sit, silence, cookie.  In that case, one cookie reinforced both cues; the sit and the silence.

And in a more complex chain; for example, the retrieve over the high jump?

You cue the fetch. And then you silently wait until the dog finishes. Your silence is the cue to the dog that he is doing it correctly.

Some people use praise this way. For example, sit, praise, cookie. Or fetch, praise, cookie.

That’s fine if your dog needs a little extra help getting through in the beginning, but long-term it’s a killer. It’s silence that your dog must value as “common” marker of correct behavior.

If silence comes to mean “wrong” beyond the earliest shaping/training phase, you may well find yourself with a dog offering a whole lot of behaviors anytime there is a pause between cues. That would be bad, and really, that’s pretty easily avoided. Just make sure that you reinforce the cue of silence the same as any other cue and you’ll be on your way.

If your dog makes an error with the silence cue, then you treat it like any other cue that is not executed property; what that might be would depend on the dog and how you train.  I’ll have a webinar on the topic of handling failure in January – there’s way more to that topic than I can handle here.

Train silence by reinforcing it, and soon your dog will find the Sound of Silence – Golden!

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

5 responses »

  1. Fantastic! Just what I needed to read today. Thank you!!!

    Reply
  2. So if the dog makes a mistake and you would normally give your ‘feedback’ to the dog by withholding the reinforcement, aren’t you poisoning the silence means you’re getting it right cue?

    Reply
  3. Interesting but I’ve never favoured any one training method or technique as such although my youngest (1yr old border collie) struck me instantly as being a dog that could use a word of praise or even acknowledgement. He was one of ten dogs that lived on a huge farm owned and run by one of the leading triallists in the country and when we first went up there to meet him one of the first things that jumped out at me was that when the farmer gave an instruction to do anything he didn’t give any acknowledgement when it was done correctly as asked.

    My old Springer was trained in a similar way and spoken to only when she did the wrong thing so it made her anxious, lack confidence and start focusing more on how to avoid being shouted at than how to learn.

    The young collie was quick to learn once he learned the meaning of “good boy” and “OK” because having a clear response let him know when he’d done the right thing and in turn it helped his confidence and allowed him to be re-trained from scratch in no time.

    Never a right or wrong way but it’s interesting 🙂

    Reply
  4. I love this! We as humans are obsessed with chatter. Some dogs can easily pick up cues in between the chat but some ( like mine) find it hard. I have given up all verbal communication with my two as one is going deaf and have found visual communication so much easier for both. A nice loud click is now the only sound in training sessions and the rest is signals and I think the hounds are finding my cues so much easier now that I am teaching in their language rather than having to struggle with mine. They have no interest in verbal praise as silence is their ‘I love it’ feedback (and they have no desire to please as they have no displeasure to avoid).

    Reply

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