At Unitec, everyone loves to take part in Māori Language week, even our canine buddies. As part of the week’s events, Ragnar, Zuko, Dex, Sue, Kawea and Buster got their own Te Reo lessons, with treats included!
The trainers and their dogs are all students in the New Zealand Certificate of Animal Management (Canine Behaviour and Training). According to course lecturer Jo Thorne, although we often think our dogs understand us, the language doesn’t actually make that much difference to the dogs.
“They don't speak English or Te Reo, to them it's just a sound that is associated with a particular behaviour, like 'sit'.
The students first teach the dogs the behaviour with no words at all by getting the dogs to follow a 'food lure' on their nose that guides them into position.
“For example, if we have the dog follow a piece of food down to the floor, they will often naturally go into the 'down' position. Once we have trained the behaviour, we add the verbal cue. So we say 'Down' and then lure the dog into the down position. Eventually, the dog associates the cue (word) with the position and we get rid of the food lure.”
“All of the dogs in the video had already been taught to respond to the English cues for these behaviours. What you see in the video is the transfer of the cue from English to Te Reo. So, the handler says 'e noho' and then 'sit' and the dog sits and gets a treat. Eventually, the dog associates the cue 'e noho' with the behaviour of sit so we don't need to say the English word 'sit'.
“They always get rewarded for their efforts with something they love, usually food or play. This is the primary technique that our students use to teach new behaviours and it is called positive reinforcement. This way, the dog ends up enjoying the training process and building a strong relationship with the handler.