The image was striking: a tiny young girl in a wheelchair next to her giant German Shepherd service dog.

It was 2005, and at that time I was only an apprentice, very new to the world of dog training. My job was to warm the dog up while my mentor chatted with the girl and her mom about their training goals for the day.

I stood in front of the dog and — with a clear, deep, and loud voice — said “SIT” and “DOWN,” and “COME,” yelling him through a series of commands. When my mentor was ready, she and the young girl took over handling, and I moved into the background to watch.

Afterwards, my mentor and I sat down to debrief the session, and she specifically asked me to recall how I had gotten the dog to engage with me in the training warm-up. Then she paused and said:

“Sophie can only whisper. Our job is to teach Duke that he gets to do a behavior that has been cued to him with a whispered voice, and not that he has to do a behavior that has been commanded of him with a big, deep voice.”

I smiled sheepishly, thinking about how I had approached running Duke through skills.

My mentor continued: “This should be true for not just service animals, but for pet dogs as well. A properly trained pet should listen to the child of the family just as much as the father.”

I think about this lesson during nearly every single training session I teach.

If training a dog is a contest of wills, you will very likely lose. And at the end of the day, why get into a “contest” with your dog at all? We are all on the same team here, and creating an adversarial relationship with your dog won’t be fun for anyone.

Instead, we must teach our dogs to love the behaviors we love… and we must also teach them that the cue for these behaviors may come from someone very big, or very small, someone with a big voice, or someone who can only whisper.

If you teach your pup that “drop-it” only means letting go of something if you loom over them and boom out the words, you are only teaching them a very narrow definition of the cue at best. And, at worst, you are harming the relationship you have with your dog by employing outdated and scientifically disproven nonsense.

Would you like some help teaching your dog to generalize behaviors? To learn that “sit” means sit, regardless of the way the cue is delivered? Reach out. This is our jam.Enter your text here...

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