Let’s Stop the Repetition – Tips from Our Trainer
Let’s Stop the Repetition
by Lisa J. Edwards CDPT, CDBC
Repeating commands to your dog is akin to a person yelling at you in a language you don’t understand while you are stressed and confused in a strange land, or with unusual things around you. It won’t matter how much someone yells, “Arrêtez Vous!” You probably won’t stop unless you do so by accident or make an educated guess.
There are many reasons why you might find yourself repeating commands to your dog. Identifying the reasons and taking the right steps to correct issues will go a long way to helping your dog learn what is expected of her.
Your dog simply didn’t know you were talking to her.
In this case, you can “restart” the training process by walking your dog in a small circle or figure eight to re-tune her so she knows you are talking to her. Then, making sure she is paying attention to you, offer the command as you always have (see generalization comments below).
Your dog was actually on the way to complying, but you said the command again.
In this case it is up to you to listen to how you talk to your dog and be patient. Sometimes your dog needs a little time to process the command as she translates it. To avoid confusing your dog, wait a beat or two after you give a command and pay attention to what she is doing. If she is processing the command, she will be looking at you with anticipation of a reward. If she is looking everywhere else but at you, then you will need to restart the process using the technique mentioned above.
Your dog doesn’t know the command as well as you think.
In this case, you and your dog need more practice, and you probably have to return to the practice of offering consistent rewards. Make sure you praise her before delivering the reward as you build her reliability to follow the command.
Your dog may not have generalized the command to a variety of different criteria.
To determine if this is the reason for your dog not responding to your command, you will need to ask yourself the following questions: Do I normally lure, and I didn’t this time? Do I normally use a hand signal or stand a certain way, but didn’t this time? Have I only ever practiced this command at home in the kitchen or back yard—and we are not in those places?
Dogs do not generalize well and are very detail oriented. If you change up any one element of your normal command sequence, your dog will not always recognize the “sit” command until you have practiced it in a variety of environments, with you in various positions, with and without hand signals.
Your dog was too stressed to comply.
In this case you will need a good understanding of your dog’s body language to read your dog’s stressors. Some, but not all, examples of stress signals are: Your dog might be ducking her head with her ears pinned back and eyes darting side to side. She might be moving her head, looking around and not making eye contact with you. Some dogs might crouch as if they are trying to make themselves smaller. Some dogs will do a look away with some quick lip licking. The hardest dogs to read as stressed are the ones who simply sit still with their head averted away from you—like a statue that is ignoring you. This is not a willful dog—this is a stressed dog.
If you are not sure if your dog is stressed, what then? Test it. The easiest way to test if a dog is stressed is to move her out or away from a situation and see what happens to her behavior. Let’s say you give her a command near a group of kids being typical kids, laughing, yelling, and having fun, and she does not comply. You would then move her away from the kids, and if she is able to look at you and comply with your command once she is away from them, then you know you had a dog too stressed to comply (also known as “over-threshold”).
The Problem with Repeating Commands
I am often asked, “What is the problem with repeating commands?” Besides the fact that it interferes with your ability to understand the problems listed above, it can crank up your dog. Dogs are energized by repetition. If I want to move my dog through an agility course faster, I will say, “go, go, go, go,” or “yes, yes, yes.” This type of repetition will effectively turn up the speed on whatever she is doing. This is good in a sporting competition, however not helpful when I want her to stay.
The most basic reason not to repeat commands is rooted in the concept that dogs do not speak our language. They learn that a certain sound indicates you want a certain behavior. If you repeat commands, your dog will learn to put his butt on the floor for “sitsitsit,” instead of “sit.”
To prevent or fix command repetitions, be sure you are doing the following:
- Say your command once, clearly, and either lure your dog or wait for her to comply.
- As soon as she complies—Praise and Reward her—in that order. If you don’t praise and reward in this order, it will be difficult to eventually fade the reward.
- Practice simple commands like, sit, down, stay, etc. in a variety of different situations and environments—not just in the kitchen or backyard.
- Remember to observe and describe your dog’s behaviors without characterizing so you can recognize stress or discomfort and move her to a sub-threshold location.
If you have tried these techniques above and still find yourself repeating commands, it is time to contact a certified positive reinforcement trainer for a little help. See the links below for trainer searches and the best criteria for a trainer.
4th Annual Run Your Tail Off 5k
Join us on April 24th for our 4th Annual Run Your Tail Off 5K Race and Kids’ Fun Run. Competitive and non-competitive runners are welcome to run, with or without dogs,* on this certified 5K course.