A common mistake that we often see owners display is repeating commands. That same owner will have just told us that their dog never comes straight away when they call it but when we observe their interaction the dog doesn’t actually follow through with ANY command straight away and why is that so? Because their owner has conditioned the dog to ignore them by always repeating a command. It’s a hard habit to break but one that we need to be very conscious of – Say a command once only!
When you give your dog a command or a cue and they do not respond, so you give the command again, and again, although it may seem that the dog didn’t hear you or you think that it is not a big deal in the moment, repeating commands essentially teaches your dog.
a. To ignore you;
b. That they do not need to respond to the first command;
c. That the command is actually the total of 5 commands eg “Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit” and thus they will only comply after you have repeated yourself consistently (very frustrating)
Does this sound like it might be you?
You give a command: “Lucy, Sit!”
Lucy ignores you
You repeat yourself: “Lucy, SIT!, HEY SIT DOWN, Sit!”
You praise Lucy: “Good Girl”
You have just taught Lucy the command is in fact “Lucy, sit! Hey sit down, sit!” And reinforced this by rewarding Lucy.
We share our tips to help:
Tip One: Only give a command once you have your dog’s attention
If your dog is distracted, your initial command may go unnoticed and therefore prompt you to repeat yourself. To avoid this, ensure you have your dog’s attention. This may even mean calling their name first to get their attention and then giving the command.
If you do not have a lead attached and there is a chance that your dog will not respond or comply, do not deliver the command. This is subsequently setting yourself and your dog up for failure and thus showing your dog that they do not need to listen on the first cue.
Tip Two: Only give a command once they understand what the word actually means
Although at times it may feel like our canine companions can understand every word we speak, you must remember our dogs do not understand English, nor do they come preprogrammed knowing common commands. It is up to us to teach them every single word that we use. You are essentially teaching English to a foreigner. For your dog to understand a command they must first make an association.
For example (the “sit” command):
To start we must first build a “word association”. We would have a small treat in our hand, show the dog the treat at its nose and slowly start to lift it over the back of the dog’s head and hold it just a fraction above the dog (Not too high, as we do not want the dog to jump up). At this point, no word has been spoken. We then move our hand slowly back in the direction of the dog’s tail. The dog will follow the treat (lure) back and as its bottom hits the ground, we say the command “sit”, and immediately reward with the treat, so we are now making word association to the action. We are actually teaching the dog English by saying the command as the dog goes into the position. Soon we need to phase out the lure and just give the command, followed by the treat until we can just say the command and reward with a treat intermittently so that treats don’t become essential to your dog following through with your commands.
Tip Three: If your dog does not comply, still make sure you follow through
There may be a time where your dog knows a command but will still not comply. If you deliver a command and your dog ignores it, rather than repeating yourself until they do, go to your dog, and ensure your dog sees the command through. Be patient. Don’t allow them to go off and do what they want until they follow your command. This will start to build up the dogs understanding that you actually mean the words you say.
Tip Four: If your dog needs to be commanded a second, third or fourth time – they may not have a clear understanding of what you want, or may not have been trained properly for that particular scenario
Teach a command in an area of low distraction e.g at home in your backyard, once the dog is understanding the command, you then need to train the dog to perform this same exercise under many different distractions, on different surfaces and in different environments. There is a difference between teaching and training. If your dog won’t immediately respond to a particular command at home (where there isn’t a lot of distraction or stimulation) then it isn’t going to respond under higher levels of distraction eg the park!
- Ensure your dog thoroughly understands each command before you give it
- If you dog is off lead, only give a command if you are certain they will/can comply
- Make sure you have their attention before you give them a command
- Make sure your dog carries out the command. If you give a command, see it through
- Teach a command in an area of low distraction e.g at home in your backyard, then train the dog to do the same command in other areas.
- Remember if your dog won’t even sit when commanded the first time you will struggle with more complex commands like recall.