Voice Training for Dummies Dogs are emotional creatures. They learn via changes in their emotional states. One of the most important tools you have as a trainer or owner is use your tone of voice.
Years ago I was working with a great Dane named Achille (Ah-sheel). His owners said he was nervous about meeting people on the streets of New York. He was a beautiful dog and it wasn’t uncommon for people to stop and stare and want to say hello.
Achille didn’t like this. He would bark nervously: “Ruff ruff! Stay away!”
But since he was so big, most people were frightened, worried that he might attack them. They didn’t realize that Achille was a big baby, and that he was the one that was really scared.
My job was to help him get over his fears. So on each of our training walks I took along a pocketful of treats. And every time someone commented on how handsome or what a beautiful dog he was, I would thank them then explain what I was trying to do. Then I’d ask if they wouldn’t they mind showing him a treat and telling him to sit?
Most people said yes. But once I’d given them the treat, quiet a few were very stern about how they gave the command, which caused Achille to bark at them. Some, though, gave the command in a very pleasant tone of voice, and when they did, Achille sat quickly and was very happy to do so.
After I made this observation, I changed tactics: once someone agreed to help out with Achille’s problem, instead of asking them to “tell” Achille to sit, I had them“ask”him to sit. This almost always changed their tone of voice from stern and bossy to pleasant and friendly. And, as a result, Achille quickly learned not to be afraid of strangers.
I was in a similar situation not too long ago. A woman who lives down the hall from me recently adopted a young Lab/pit bull mix named Diva, and I ran into her at the dog run. At one point Diva was showing an avid interest in the far corner of the dog run where the garbage bags, etc., are stored in a large industrial-plastic type container, which sits pushed up against the fence. Diva was fascinated with it, smelling all around the container, even pushing herself between it and the fence. (My feeling was that it was a popular spot for rats to hang out at night.)
Diva’s owner was saying, “No, stop that,” and trying to pull her away from those fascinating smells, thinking that a stern tone of voice would motivate the dog to come back to her. So I suggested that we just walk away instead.
Once we were a good distance away, Diva was torn between following us and continuing with what her nose was telling her to do.
To overcome this final bit of resistance, I told Diva's new mommy to praise her dog. She did, but her voice was flat and held no excitement or emotion. Then I praised Diva, and the dog got a happy look in her eyes, and immediately came running to me as if I were the most interesting thing in the world at that moment. Once Diva’s owner heard the difference in our voices, she was able to imitate the way I’d praised her dog and it had the same effect.
So, since this isn’t something that can be explained as easily in print, I’ve used my Olympus Digital Recorder to give you a few samples of how to do it. Just click on the link below: