Tonal quality and its Relevance in Dog Training
I think one of the most overlooked factors in our dog training is the value of tone production. “Tone production” is a term we have coined from the study of music. The definition of the term is, “the act, process, or manner of producing musical tones: used both of instrument and of the voice”
Most often, when this topic is researched in terms of dog training, you find many articles about having a calm tone, or a firm tone, etcetera. While that might work for some, we here are more concerned with the actual timbre of our sound, and its consistency, rather than the emotion that does or does not accompany our sound. Timbre is the overall quality of the sound being produced. Take for example the sound a duck makes when it quacks. It has a very distinct tonal quality the is quite the opposite of the sound that say, an owl makes. Even if the actual pitch of the sound is the same, one will still notice a staunch difference between the two sounds.
If we take a moment to embrace the idea that our dogs do not understand our language, but rather understand the associations which accompany our tones or sounds, tone production becomes a very important factor.
We can also take in account that a dog can not only hear a much wider range of frequencies than our human ear, but can also distinguish frequencies much more intricately as well.
Always remembering that consistency and repetition are our keys to dog training success, we need to take into account the consistency of the sounds we make to the dog, and the consistency of the associations the dog has with the sound being produced. Most importantly, we like to think that at the end of the day, when we have “trained dog,” we want only to rely on our verbal cues in order to elicit desired behaviors, and not a hand signal or some other visual cue.
Following this theory, we should take into account the consistency of the sounds we are making, as well as the consistency of the actions associated with those sounds. When we have inconsistency in our sounds or associations, we have inconsistency in our responses. This factor alone can potentially increase the level of conflict in your communication with your dog.
On the same note, (no pun intended) lets also take into account how many different sounds we are making during our training. If we are constantly making sounds, or talking to the dog, the dog is then forced to try to decipher what from what, leading to potential confusion within the training. Often times, when I work with a new handler, I find that they are constantly talking to the dog-normally as a form of positive reinforcement. Normally when I observe this, I also observe the dog not paying attention in the least, with its focus somewhere away from it’s handler. If by chance the dog is focused, it is then misinterpreting the sounds being made by the handler by either executing the wrong behavior, or breaking its behavior before it is officially released.
If we take the silent approach, the dog then is actually seeking the audible information, as opposed to trying to absorb the array of sound being presented to it. I’ve found that silence is absolutely golden in dog training. Verbal cues are clear and easily understood, and seldom does the dog misinterpret the sounds being produced. Not to mention the dog becomes an avid listener, literally. Constantly seeking audible information from you, they will become eager in their responses.
Take care and safe training