Most of my training runs are done on my own with the dogs (mainly because I have to get up at 5am to fit them in) so I have often found myself chatting away to the dogs about the things we see on our runs. I have been known to mutter things along the lines of ‘glad you didn’t see that cat guys’ and ‘well that was a close shave wasn’t it?’. I don’t expect an answer back but it has often crossed my mind that my ‘chatter’ might distract the dogs from listening to the actual voice commands I want them to respond to.
However, I have always done this. I remember being terrified of my mutterings slipping out when doing dressage competitions, as I was continually talking to my horse whilst I completed the tests and this is not allowed during the competitions. It took more concentration not to open my mouth, than to remember where I was supposed to be guiding my horse!
The difference with the voice commands I use for the canicross, bikejor and scootering is the tone and volume of my voice. I always project my voice, raise the volume and put energy into the word or words. For example I use ‘Gee’ for right turn, ‘Haw’ for left turn and ‘Straight on’ to continue. Invaluable in my list of additional instructions are ‘Wait’ , ‘Leave’ and ‘Steady’ (although the last one seems to be up for debate in certain situations!).
The dogs rarely pay any attention to anything other than the direct words they associate with either a change in direction or an instruction to slow down or speed up. I have spent quite a lot of time recently, reiterating these commands, even when the dogs obviously know where we’re going because we use the routes regularly to train. I’ve also been changing the routes slightly, just to make sure they are responding to me and not just their inbuilt navigational systems.
Lets face it – dogs are on the whole, very intelligent creatures and I think most dogs can tell the difference between conversation in general and instructions directed at them. There are people who advise you not to just ‘chat’ to your dogs whilst undertaking any training, so that your dog doesn’t learn to block out the ‘white noise’ of your voice in the background and I do agree with this to an extent. Personally though, I can’t help talking to my dogs when I’m out on my own and have no-one else to share my little musings with, so I will remain a ‘chatty’ canicrosser, as long as I am confident in the knowledge the dogs can differentiate between the chatter and the commands.