Say a Command Once- Simple Does Not Always Mean Easy

It is really, really, really important that we only say a command one time. (Yes, the three reallys are an attempt at humor and irony.) In other words, the proper command for Sit is “Sit” not “Sit, Sit, Sit.” Be warned, this is actually humanly impossible. Well, impossible may be too strong a word but let’s just say that I don’t know many people, including myself and most trainers I know, that can honestly say they have never repeated a command. I wish I could but I am only human, and like the header says, simple does not always mean easy.

Just go to any obedience class, in any town, any day of the week and observe. Don’t bring your dog, just go and watch. You will be amazed at the ratio of commands to compliance. I promise you, you will hear ”Sit” at least 5 times more than you actually see dogs sitting. You will see dogs that are confused and trying really hard to please or have come to the conclusion that it is better to just ignore the loony holding the leash. “Sit,” says the dog owner before resorting to, ”Sit Rover Sit,” shortly followed by tones that begin to plead… “Siiiiiiiit, Siiiiiiiiiiit,” thinking long drawn out sounds might help. Then the frustration kicks in and out comes the low, serious, “I said Sit!”  That last one is often done with a clenched jaw to avoid making a scene by actually yelling in class.

Patricia McConnell implies in her book, “The Other End of the Leash“ that because we are primates, we have a penchant for repeating sounds. Think monkey here, “oooh, oooh, oooh!” I am not sure I like that comparison but it is kind of funny. We humans just love to talk, talk, talk. All day long we talk and when we’re not talking we are listening to the radio or watching TV. It’s crazy if you think about it. That’s a lot of conversation.

Compare this to dogs and you will find this is an area that we are very different from our pets. While dogs may vocalize, they do not verbalize. Sure, dogs communicate with sound but in comparison to humans they are pretty much mute. We may not always stop to think about it but I think we innately know this. Actually, their overall silence is probably one of the reasons we love them so much. This is why when we do get a dog that “talks” too much, my phone rings because of a barking or whining problem. 

“So, what’s the big deal? Why is it so important that we don’t repeat the commands over and over?”  

The big deal is that dogs learn from conditioning, which basically means repetition and association. They do not speak English, or any other language, and they spend their time trying to pick out those choice little gems that actually mean something to them. Awash in a sea of sounds coming incessantly from our mouths, it’s amazing that they understand us at all. This is why we need to be very clear with the words we use and how we use them. If we want them to Sit when we say “Sit” and we don’t want to have to yell at them, then we do not want to be saying “Sit, Sit, Sit” in ever changing tones when training them.

“So, what’s the solution? What am I suppose to do when I give the command and he just doesn’t listen?” 

The first thing to do is make sure the dog even knows what the word means. This is why marker training is so valuable. Most people make the mistake of saying the word before they have achieved getting the behavior reliably. Again, it’s the monkey in us that just can’t keep quiet. First, keep quiet and work on getting the behavior via a food lure or other technique, then worry about giving it a name. 

Start by “marking” the behavior with the word. This means that you say the word just as you are getting the behavior and not a moment before. For example, just as the dog’s butt touches the ground you say “Sit.” By doing it this way there is no mistake as to what “Sit” means and you will have no need to repeat it.

Once you have achieved success with this and your dog now knows for sure what you are asking for, you can begin to question whether Rover didn’t hear you or if he's just being non-compliant. At this point you are going to have to bite your tongue and just make it happen. Say “Sit” (one time) and give him a second or two to comply. If he does not comply, simply place him into position. Of course, if he does comply with the command, praise him for it and, if you are using food, give him a treat.

If you are not already enrolled in dog training classes, please realize that dog training has a lot to do with body language, timing and various techniques that simply cannot be taught on paper.   If you need help, please feel free to drop in or come by and observe one of my classes anytime. If you need help, please feel free to drop in or come by and observe one of my classes anytime. (Did I just repeat myself?)


Chad Culp–Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Consultant, Certified Holistic Chef for Animals

Copyright 2005-2013 Chad Culp, Thriving Canine. All rights reserved.