Once, Twice, Three times a Push-over; Repeating Dog Training Commands
Walk through just about any Wal-Mart on this planet and you will hear this conversation: “Timmy, don’t touch that. I’m serious Timmy, don’t touch that. Get over here! Get Down from there! Don’t make me come over there!” Sometimes the situation defuses itself from there because his mom just gives up and moves on as little Timmy wreaks havoc throughout the store. Or, she finally gets angry enough to grab him by the arm and yells something like “I told you, not to touch that”.
The problem is that mom is not consistent, she is a push over, and Timmy never knows when she will explode. He gambles on the fact that he can get away with some “fun/naughty” behavior and she may never follow through or she may totally lose her temper he is really not sure, but the odds are pretty good that she will eventually just ignore his behavior and he will win.
I was a model child! I remember getting into trouble once in public, I was probably about 5 and the memory is still singed in my brain; no need to frighten anyone with the details suffice it to say it never happened again and my mother didn’t believe in positive reinforcement.
My mother was the opposite of Timmy’s mother, if she threatened she followed through; no if, ands, or buts about it! She was totally consistent and true to her word. As a child it was easy for me to know that if something was promised good or bad, it was inevitable if I followed on the chosen path. And, for that reason I almost never rebelled. It simply wasn’t worth it.
Although some of her parenting skills were questionable and I believe punishment doesn’t work; especially for animals, consistency is the key to having a good relationship with your dog!
Humans are really good about patterning, and most of us don’t even realize we are falling into patterns until it has already begun to imprint usually negatively on our dogs! Animals, unlike us, are good at interpreting behavior; they have to be since they don’t have the ability to speak.
What typically happens is that we get irritated consistently at about the same time. For most people the magic number is 3; sit, sit, SIT and THEN the person means it. Your dog learns through your behavior pattern that he doesn’t have to listen until about the 3rd command. You are essentially teaching him to ignore you until the 3rd.
Once the person reaches that “magic” number 2 things usually happen, either they get angry and their voice, inflection and body posture changes OR they let the command go ignored with no follow through. Either way your dog is learning to either wait it out until you give up and forget OR he changes his behavior when he sees the tell tale signs of anger and irritation.
What’s worse is to give a command you cannot enforce and then ignore when your dog doesn’t comply! Your dog learns with worse behavior comes eventual acceptance. Or he learns if he stays away from you, you simply give up. This is a horrible thing to teach an animal! This is a sure fire way to get an animal that is never compliant to your commands, because essentially you are teaching him he doesn’t have to be!
It is also detrimental to teach your dog that he has to wait until you are angry before he has to listen to you. I guess this is better than a dog that totally ignores commands, but it is sad to teach your dog he has to wait until you yell, threaten him, or physically abuse him for him to have to listen! These are the dogs that often cower and roll over submissively when their owners yell, but otherwise they don’t listen. They usually realize the next step, in most cases, leads to physical manipulation and a correction or pain!
How To Fix the Problem
DO NOT give a command more than once (unless your dog is old and hard of hearing or you think for sure he didn’t hear you!).
- Most dogs are not hard of hearing; actually their hearing is much, much better than ours! He heard you, he is just ignoring you! Don’t give him that option. I tell my clients to either help him or make him comply. If he is young or new to the training, help him comply by using positive reinforcement or luring him to complete the task and then reward. Focus on teaching him until you are certain that he knows what you want in all situations. For example listening to you indoors is a lot easier than listening to you outdoors; I would go back to square one and teach my dog to listen outdoors if he is having a problem!
- OR, make him comply…I don’t mean by using corrections or threats or ripping his head off, but all dogs go through a stage where they test the commands that you give. I simply make them sit, or stay or come by utilizing my leash and not allowing them to make any other decision. Be sure he knows what you mean before you take this road, help him first!
DO NOT give a command you cannot enforce!
- I wouldn’t tell a dog that I know will not listen to “come” unless I had a leash on him and I could help him listen to my command. I never give a command I can’t enforce until I have reached a 90 to 95% compliance with one word obedience commands in all places and situations!
This takes practice and work on your regular obedience commands. Utilize a leash so that you have some form of control if he chooses to ignore you. Use positive reinforcement and fun for a job well done! Give your dog a reason to listen to you; i.e. you will play ball with him or jackpot him for a difficult but successful accomplishment.
If you are 100% or at least 98% consistent with giving commands and making sure he complies on the first command you will see his compliance drastically increase. He will stop testing you and he will learn that listening to you is the only way to get what he wants in life!
Celebrate small accomplishments and make sure training is fun! Always end on a good note with a great achievement so that your dog is excited the next time you want to begin training, and soon you will be on the road to having a compliant dog that the whole neighborhood envies and one that can be trusted everywhere you go together on or off of the leash!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.