Thursday, 17 April 2014

Thinking about Right and Left commands.

Yesterday morning I posted a question on FaceBook about right and left commands in agility.  The responses were very interesting, so I thought I'd share them here.

My question was: 

So sometimes on a course we might want a turn right at a given point on vocal command. So we would like to be able to yell "Right" and have the dog turn just when told!

Other times we might want them to take an obstacle and turn immediately after.

However in this case, the command needs to be given before we actually want them to turn. 
So "Jump Right" would mean Jump and then turn Right, rather than turn right on hearing the word Right!

Do dogs work out this difference in what we mean? Your thoughts?

The short answer:

Joanne Orrell:
Absolutely, if that's what you have taught them and been consistent with it, then they will pick up on it pretty quickly.

This sounds promising. However as with all things there can be more aspects to consider as well:

Yvonne Lynch:
From a linguistic perspective, dogs understand words in a very different way to the way humans do. Humans understand language and can combine words in completely new ways and still derive meaning.

We debated this a bit further and it seems dogs will hear "Jump Right" not as two separate commands strung together to be acted in sequence, but rather a single command "Jump-Right" which always means a certain thing.

Jan Winsor:
We have stopped stringing cues together - such as Jump, Turn right etc, and taken the time to train distinct and discrete cues for each separate behaviour. 

So with this in mind it might be better to use separate and shorter commands to refer to jumping and immediately turning tightly.  For looser turns after a jump, there seemed to be agreement that the command could be given after the dog had committed to jumping the obstacle.

Controlling the tightness of a turn could be another issue:

Joanne Orrell:
I tend to just use the command more so I would say this this this (my right command) rather than just one this or back for left. She knows then that I want her to turn quicker and tighter.

So, for me, if I'm using the word Right, it could look like this:

The discussion continued and it's clear there are a lot of ways to make verbal directionals work, but so long as a handler is consistent, then the dog should work it out.

Yvonne made another point about how dogs learn compared to humans:
The other thing I've learned from my day job (Speech and language therapist) is while people learn language really well with contrast (so contrasting left with right), dogs are not learning the pattern of language so the contrast is confusing. Teach left separately from right - the contrast is not helpful like it is for children.

So it seems that right and left should be taught at first as discrete exercises in their own right.  Perhaps tackled on different days, or at least with other activities in between.  Other posters made the comment that calling each turn - that they are doing anyway on arm signals perhaps - would also help reinforce the directionals.

So my plan?

I think I'm going to teach Right and Left as simple directionals to be obeyed when heard, with repetition to increase the turn tightness.

Then for jumping tightly round a wing, when the dog really needs to know BEFORE the jump, I'm going to use Wrap and Loop as individual commands meaning JumpRight and JumpLeft.

And that has about exhausted my brain for this morning...  Now just to go outside and help Finn speak my language!!

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