It is common to hear you need to say a command loud or with authority to your dog to get them to listen. The assumption being that when you say it loud the dog views you as an authoritative figure and will listen to you.
So if you say it quietly or with a softer voice does that mean you are seen as weak and not a position of authority?
We have found an alternate theory that appears to be the correct theory. Let me explain.
There is a Core Rule we follow called the A to B Rule. This means you want to get your dog to do your goal (B) and your starting point (A) is the easiest version you can get your dog to do.
Dogs won’t do what you want automatically in most cases, they need to be taught through a process.
When you do increase a level of difficulty moving from A to B, since there are often multiple steps to get towards B, a dog will make mistakes. For example a dog can learn to do sit or down in the house no problem but as soon as you go outside they won’t do it at all. Outside they are distracted. It can take a bit before they will focus and listen. Next thing you know the dog is doing great outside.
Then you go to practice sit or down near other dogs or people and your dog is no longer listening. Again the distractions have increased. With practice the dog can start listening around dogs or people. There are many tips to help with that but that would require several different articles to cover that.
Here is where we find saying commands loud or with force comes in. A dog is often trained to do their commands at home with no distractions and once they understand we expect that they should do them anywhere.
So now when you go outside and give a sit or down command and your dog doesn’t listen we think they are being stubborn. This is often where saying the command loudly comes into effect. By saying it loud you will increase the amount the dog listens and to start with they will definitely comply better by saying it loud.
But is it necessary?
The way we set it up: We practice commands in low distraction just like mentioned above. However when we increase distractions we know a dog will make mistakes so we keep saying it in a regular tone of voice and use the other tricks of the trade to get the dog to focus on us. Once they are listening well we then increase distractions again. Same thing, dog stops listening and you go through the same process.
We teach the dog that even if we say the command in a regular voice we will still make them follow through. This teaches them to listen with a regular tone of voice.
To make this even better we use a Super Proofing technique which is a part of the A to B Rule. For this we will start saying the commands in a whisper. Start in low distractions first and work you way up A to B like we did with regular commands. Once a dog listens to whisper commands a regular tone of voice command will seem like a piece of cake.
Where Raising Voice Goes Wrong
By raising your voice when distractions are first increased we start teaching a dog that we will only make them follow through once we raise our voice. To start with they don’t understand what we want anyway. But by raising your voice they get into the habit of only listening when your voice is raised.
This would be similar to the parent you see that always yells at their child and the child eventually tunes them out and the yelling isn’t all that effective.
We were working with a client that we explained this theory to and he laughed and said he raised his kids the same. He said he only raised his voice about 3 times with them when they were younger and he said any time he did they started crying because they knew he really meant business.
We had an incident a few summers back where we had 3 dogs outside and a badger came to the corner of our house. The dogs went running over, badger bit a dog, dog bit the badger back, badger let go. When I saw this I came running outside and yelled “Leave it!” The dogs immediately ran away from the badger. My wife called the dogs in the house and I chased the badger away.
I never raise my voice but when I do the dogs really know to listen. This helps out with safety. Had I always raised my voice the dogs would have thought it was just like any regular day. But since I never do they really know to pay attention.
So there you have my theory on saying commands loud. I have trained numerous dogs to listen in a regular voice or whisper commands with high level distractions. No need to raise a voice.
When distractions are raised a dog will always make mistakes. This means they don’t understand what you want anyway. This is where most people start raising their voice, some start even before this. The dog then gets into the habit of only listening when your voice is raised.
Tip: Only give a command if you can make the dog follow through on the command. The most common place to start yelling commands is when a dog is off-leash and not listening. There are some easy fixes to completely prevent that or fix it if it has become a problem. We cover this in recall training with clients.