A Barnyard of Verbal Reprimands

I went into a store a while back.  The store clerk started wiggling her fingers at the dog I had with me.  She shrieked, patted her legs.  When the puppy came rushing toward her, she took it upon herself to correct the dog.  She gave what is called a verbal correction.  “Ack!  Ack!”

I expect better from pet store employees.  They are supposed to be professionals.  If you wiggle, squiggle and sound like a squeaky toy, expect the dog to run over.  Don’t like it?  Go look in the mirror and “Ack!” yourself.

Personally, I am not fond of verbal corrections.  I prefer teaching a leave it command to the dog.  While teaching a skill, I might withhold the treat to communicate that the dog has not gotten things quite right.

I don’t have too many moral or ethical dilemmas with verbal reprimands.  The one exception would be sensitive dogs that cower at loud noises.  Think puppy mill dogs that might be out for remedial socialization.  One minute a stranger is happily encouraging them closer and “ACKKK!  ACKKK!”  It is rather mean.

This is why pet professionals – including store clerks – should know and do better.  They should know that puppy mills exist and that customers in the store potentially could have a sensitive puppy mill rescue.

Interacting without permission violates a rule in the pet world.  Ask permission first.  In my opinion, it should be a sacred law.  It is my dog.  I know its history.  Ask.

However, the real reason I tend to dislike verbal corrections is that they are….annoying.  That is right.  I think they are irritating.  “Acccck…acccckkkk….acccckkkk!”  I think if the store clerk does it next time, I will ask her if she has a hairball.

Really, these verbal corrections just do not make much sense.  “Ack” sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball.  Most dogs do not see that as discouraging.  They’ll want to know if you have a cat hidden in your bra.

Then there is “Baaaahhhh.”  To me, that sounds like a sheep.  Don’t Border Collies and other herding breeds like to chase sheep?  How does one logically explain that sounding like a sheep would be punishing or corrective to a dog?

What about “Shhhhhtt”?  Dogs think that snakes are fun to chase, catch and shake.  Why would I want to sound like that?

Finally, there is “Eh eh eh,” an oldie but a goodie.  Our barnyard of animal sounds has moved to goats or ducks.  It sounds a lot like my dog’s stuffed toy duck.  I think dogs would find that highly entertaining.

Why is this annoying?  Imagine learning or teaching a new skill.  Perhaps a child doing times table drills.

Teacher:  What is 3 x 4?

Child:  16

Ack! Ack! Ack!

I can tell you what most people would do under those circumstances.  They would tell the teacher to shut up, or laugh behind their backs.  And yes, the sensitive kids would cower and quit.  There is no need to go to verbal reprimands when mistakes are made.  The words, “Try again” are just as effective at communicating that an error has been made.

Yes, I know that all of us, at one time or another wind up with some barnyard noise flying out of our mouths unintentionally.  That is different from doing it intentionally – planning on sounding like prey.  I’m not sure who originally came up with the idea.  It seems to lack a certain sense of logic.  Dogs do not make any of these sounds.  They bark and growl.  And no, I do not really want to see people barking at their dogs either.

I cannot help but wonder if dogs are cringing or laughing on the inside.  I know which one my dog is doing.  Verbally correct him, and he is going to try to find out where you are hiding the cats, ducks, snakes and sheep.  You have become a squeaky toy.  You have just rewarded my dog.  That is something that I object to, and find …. annoying.

10 thoughts on “A Barnyard of Verbal Reprimands

  1. I’m not as concerned over verbal “corrections” as some trainers are. I use them as neutral interrupters. I’ll even say no, with my own puppy mill/hoarding/failed adoptive home rescue. She’s fine. Case in point the last time I told her no.

    She’s been trained not to go on the tables. But there was watermelon on the coffee table and that’s her most favorite food. Mega temptation. Can’t blame her for seeing if she could get away with it.

    I was watching tv and was also watching her out of the corner of my eye. She started to creep closer and closer on the couch to the coffee table. Then she put up one paw as if to step on the table and then turned to me to see if what would happen. I told her calmly, in a normal tone of voice, “No.” That’s right, I didn’t glare or yell or even say it in an evil, menacing tone.

    So what did she do? She backed away from the mellon, I warmly praised her for making the desired decision and she came to me to play.

    But what would have happened if she didn’t listen? Not much. I would have directed her attention to something else, taken away the watermelon if we were done eating it, or I would have taken her off the table if she got up on it. Not a big deal. No spanking or even so much as a hard word.

    So how did she understand what “No” means? Simple. I wasn’t smiling and didn’t sound pleased with her getting closer to the melon. Should I only make sure to talk to her in a singsong, baby voice and smile at her all day long?

    Dogs are incredibly good at reading us. She perceived that I didn’t give my approval. I could have said “uh uh” and wagged my finger and it would have had the same effect. Or I could have said “Leave it”. Or asked for a “Sit” or told her to get off the couch. Whatever. No force, no fear, no intimidation, no pain involved. Why did I have to have her do some other activity other than just leaving the melon alone? Dogs are smart enough to understand that sometimes just stopping a behavior is enough. We don’t always need another behavior planned instead.

    • Absolutely, I don’t think all verbal corrections are “horrible.” I do think they are often very rewarding for some dogs. It’s better to be praised than punished. It’s better to be punished than ignored.
      My dog still wants to find the duck that some people hide somewhere in their bra. 😉 Very, very rewarding for some dogs.

  2. “Teacher: What is 3 x 4?
    Child: 16
    Ack! Ack! Ack!”

    I laughed out loud at this!!

    Like the commentor above, I initially found verbal reprimands to be a very hard habit to kick. I unfortunately conditioned “hey!” as a positive punisher in my last dog (who was quite sensitive). I am continually trying to improve, though — hopefully my coming puppy will not experience that.

  3. Honestly, as a crossover trainer, this is one of the hardest habits for me to kick. I videotape myself training with my dogs and almost every time I tape I catch myself doing it completely unintentionally. It’s actually hilarious when I watch it now though, because my younger dog has been clicker trained since 8 weeks old and never had a physical correction in her life. When I make the verbal correction noise (what I call the “anti-click” i.e. the verbal marker indicates that physical punishment is coming) she just looks back at me, cocks her head and keeps doing whatever it is that she was doing before. Now I just laugh at myself. I’m getting better (slowly) at not doing it, but I would have to say that’s the one habit that is dying pretty hard.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I got a good laugh out of it. I overheard Michelle doing the same thing last night while reading.

    I try very hard not to make those unintentional barnyard noises and I think I actually am doing pretty well with it. I think the two chief reasons are: 1.) It is incredibly annoying to listen to and witness. 2.) I think that I have finally really assimilated the knowledge that we need to try and communicate with dogs using language and gestures they understand. In other words, I want to try and speak dog and understand dog since my dogs are constantly trying to do the same for me.

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