It is important to understand what we mean when we use certain words. Each niche has its own vocabulary. Bird watchers use certain phrases differently than radio operators. Horse trainers use different words than dog trainers. So what is meant by “Negative Vocabulary”?
Even among dog trainers, you may not have heard this phrase before as I have not heard it used by anyone other than my mentor. Chief introduced me to this phrase and it has been one of the most important concepts of training he ever communicated to me.
In my last article, I mentioned that you should be especially careful not to build a negative vocabulary with your puppy. Remember you are building a foundation with your young dog and any errors in training philosophy or orthopraxy (proper actions) will only be magnified as you attempt to do more advanced training with your dog. What I do not mean by negative vocabulary is saying something negative to your dog. In fact, you must use at least one negative command with your dog as your verbal correction. While you should remain in control of yourself, if you hope to have control of your dog, the positive nature of your words is not the focus of this article.
Instead, what is meant by “negative vocabulary” is establishing a pattern of giving a command and allowing disobedience, or of giving a verbal correction without the physical correction repeatedly. There are certain commands, when new to a dog, that you may give and then attempt to encourage through positive or negative feedback. This is fine, but even during these exercises; you must not allow your dog to remain indecisive. If your dog does not respond to your commands, then you must go in and either correct the dog physically or physically lead the dog through the exercise. You build a negative vocabulary when you give a dog a command and allow them to ignore or disobey you without receiving a correction. You are also building a negative vocabulary when you verbally correct a dog without the physical correction. There are times when this is ok, but it should be the rare exception rather than the rule.
So be aware of yourself as you give commands and correct your dog that you maintain consistent vocabulary; that you not allow your dog to ignore commands or disobey without a physical correction, and that you not repeat commands over and over again. Another important aspect of this concept is not getting frustrated. There are times when training dogs will get frustrating, but you must maintain control of yourself. If you can’t maintain control of yourself, then put your dog up and come back to them later. However, if you correct physically and verbally for each act of disobedience, and if you maintain a consistently positive vocabulary with your dog, there will be many fewer frustrating moments than if you are inconsistent and use a negative vocabulary.
Enjoy being on the field.