Matching tone to temperament is key for successful behavior training.
Did your mother ever tell you, “It’s not WHAT you say, it’s the WAY that you say it that matters”? We know that our tone of voice can often have a big impact on how someone will respond to something we are saying.
And anyone who has every owned a dog knows that they are also very attune to changes in our tone. According to a study from Duke University however, the tone that you use should also be dictated in part by the temperament of the dog. In other words, different personalities, respond to different tones.
The researchers tested 30 pet dogs ranging from an 8-month old Jack Russell terrier to an 11 year old Vizsla along with 76 assistance dogs. The dogs’ baseline temperament was estimated based on tail wags per minute; the researchers noted that overall, the service dogs were more clam and the pet dogs were more excitable.
The dogs were challenged to retrieve a treat from a person standing behind a 6 foot wide and 3 foot tall clear plastic wall. The goal was to teach the dogs to resist the temptation to just run straight for the person, but rather learn to walk around the wall to one of the open sides to get to the person (and the treat).
In the first trial, the person behind the barrier would call the dog’s name in a calm, monotone voice and in the next trial, would use an urgent, excited voice. Both groups of dogs were able to successfully learn to go around the plastic barrier however, the researchers noted that the calmer dogs responded better to an urgent voice and the more excitable dogs performed better when a calm, soothing voice was used. Using an excited voice with the excited dogs only made them more distracted and unable to complete the task.
Researchers can use this information to help tailor training techniques for service dogs in a variety of fields. As a pet parent, this information can also help with day to day commands and training. Next time you are trying to get your furry family members to listen, remember, your very excited Chihuahua may respond better to a calm voice but your very laid back retriever made need a more exited tone to get his attention.
For more tips for training your dog you can go to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers found at apdt.com.