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Okay, full disclosure: This may be a trick question! How many times should you say "sit" or "come" or "leave it"? Essentially, how many times should you repeat a command?
This is one of the more common errors we see: repetition of commands. There are so many reasons why you should be very careful on this point - one command for each skill. To ask more than once is lacking in expectation and will only set you up for a dog who doesn't listen well.
This is number one, most important reason and the BIGGEST problem with repeating commands. It becomes completely foggy for the dog when you're unclear. If sometimes you expect the dog to sit on one command and other times you're indifferent, your dog will become confused about what you're asking. Dogs, like humans, like to have a clear idea of the expectations that are on them. It's nice to have a clear set of rules in life, isn't it? Think about how nervous you get when you speed by a sitting police cruiser. The anxiety over whether they're going to follow you and issue a ticket or whether you got away with having a heavy foot feels weighty, doesn't it? Imagine being in that state of anxiety all of the time. Some dogs will get very worried if the expectation varies. Some dogs will just learn to tune you out, which will breed frustration in you, the human. Whatever your cue, say it once and mean it in order to help your dog understand what's expected of them.
Regardless of the training methods they endorse, all good dog trainers will agree that your expectations will dictate your dog's behaviour. If you expect your dog to sit on the first command, with clear training, that's what you'll get! If your expectations are low, your dog's response to your cues will be as well. Make no mistake about it. Your dogs good or bad behaviour is a direct reflection of your expectations.
In dog training, there aren't many things that are more important than giving consistent information. Imagine a situation where someone says a word in a foreign language and shows you an apple. After 2 or 3 repetitions, you'll start to condition yourself to understand that the word means apple. Now picture the same situation: you're given a word in a foreign language and shown an apple the first time, a plum the second time and a shoe the third time. How would you ever figure out what the word meant? It's the same thing for our dogs when we lack consistency. It breeds confusion and can even damage your relationship.
In a nutshell, this sort of thing is exactly what will make your leadership come into question with your dog. Leadership is not about being stern or overbearing. It's not about being dominant. It's about being clear and keeping your expectations high. If you concentrate on things that are part of your day-to-day life with your dog and you're consistent with your training, your dog will naturally see your leadership and assuming they understand your cues, they'll listen much better as a rule. You'll see all of your cues get a better response from your dog if you are a good, clear and fair leader.
What if They Don't Sit?
So what do you do? If you've asked your dog to sit and they continue to sniff the ground. Or you get the sit, but they get up before you've released them. Make it happen! Whatever your training methods are, use them to get the sit without simply asking again and definitely without food to lure. Remember that beyond the initial introduction of skills, food should be used as a reward (coming after the successful behaviour) and not as a lure (used to show the dog how to accomplish the behaviour). For more details on using food properly in training, read our previous blog post on 'Why Food Fails in Dog Training'. Your methods should be gentle, but insistent and should get the dog back into position quickly and efficiently.
For 1 week, challenge yourself to be awake and aware every time you address your dog. Make sure you keep your expectations high, give them clear cues only once and follow through if you don't get the result you are looking for. At the end of the week, take an inventory of your situation. Has your dog's behaviour improved? Have you noticed spillover in your other cues? Are you noticing better general obedience or observation from your dog? Please, share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page and as always, happy training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.