I’m going to go through something I repeatedly tell my clients in class. Perhaps some different wording will help……
Say the cue once.
Say. The. Cue. Once.
If you do nothing else to improve your dog training skills, learn this tip. Say your cues one time to facilitate efficient learning. If you repeat cues, “Sit, sit, sit, sit” you are doing two things incorrectly.
1. You are teaching your dog to ignore you and working against reliability. Most people would say that they want reliability, which is the act of getting a requested behavior on the first attempt – every time. If you repeat cues, you are teaching your dog to ignore the first, second or third request and turning your voice into meaningless background noise. “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Your dog is not going to magically hear the cue and do the behavior. There is also a good chance that your dog doesn’t even know what the cue means.
2. You are not teaching your dog to perform behaviors in the presence of distractions, and have inappropriate expectations. Often the biggest mistake novice trainers make is expecting too much from their dog too soon. PATIENCE!!!! If your dog is at a dog park playing with his friends and you ask him to “Come!” there is a good chance that he will not do it unless you have systematically worked on this cue in less distracting environments and worked up to a high level of distractions.
I find that the serial repeaters are the same people that say that their dog is “willful” or “stubborn”. My take on this is to say the dog was taught to ignore the trainer and that sloppy or non-existent training is taking place. Just because you ask a dog to do something doesn’t mean that they should automatically do it. Why are school teachers expected to go through years of training in order to teach children effectively (and it is still a challenge) and someone can take one puppy class or read one book and blame their dog if they don’t do all the behaviors on cue?
Become a better teacher and your dog will learn faster and more effectively.
How to Be a Better Teacher
I know most people say “trainer” but I think the term teacher focuses a little more attention on the student. Let’s face it, a dog is a student when you are teaching him something new. Your communication skills as a teacher can make or break whether your student learns something or not, or how quickly they learn. New behaviors must be worked until they become new HABITS!
Here are specific ways to become a better teacher and avoid repeating cues.
If your dog cannot perform the required behavior around distractions, take a step back in your training and ask for something easier. Many people get frustrated if their dog doesn’t perform a behavior that they have seen him do before. He might have forgotten the behavior, he might be distracted, or there might be some other reason why he isn’t performing the cue. Have the final cue in your mind, but also give encouragement and rewards for partial behaviors in order to keep your dog enthusiastic about the behavior and training. An example is “down”. If your dog lies down beautifully and reliably inside your home, you can’t expect him to do it the first time at the dog park without prior experience in that location. Instead, ask him to do something easier such as “sit” or “leave it” and make a note that you need to practice “down” in a less distracting environment before you can expect it to happen at the dog park. Remember, introduce the three D’s of training IN THIS SPECIFIC ORDER: Duration first, Distance second, and finally Distractions.
Understand and Use Helpers
Helpers are simply a backup plan if your dog doesn’t perform the requested behavior. The “helper” is a humane, gentle way to coax your dog to do the behavior and avoid repeating the cue. Eventually after enough repetition, the helper goes away after your dog makes the connection between the cue and the behavior and is performing the cue on his own without help. Do not worry about how many times you need to help your dog before he performs the behavior on his own. Simply follow my 3-step rule of providing help and eventually your dog will do the behavior on his own:
ask your dog to do a cue ONE TIME
wait for a moment to see if he needs your help
provide help, as needed
An example of help can be illustrated when describing how to teach a dog to “come” around distractions. The help can be anything that humanely motivates your dog to come to you. This could include tapping your leg, kneeling down, gently moving both your body and hand to stimulate prey drive in Fido, or running the other way to motivate him to chase you.
As you do more training, the helper will be unnecessary because your dog will make the connection between cue and behavior and will do the behavior on his own. This happens after many repetitions. Do not get frustrated if your dog doesn’t learn something immediately. Every dog is different and has a different rate of learning. Pay attention to being a good, patient teacher and do not repeat cues. If you always have to help your dog, look at decreasing the level of distractions present by moving away from what is causing your dog’s behavior to fall apart.
If you follow these simple directions, your dog’s behavior will improve and you will become a better trainer, or teacher!
Scott Cook, a professional K-9 Trainer of 45+ years, has been an avid Canine Enthusiast since childhood and it is worth mentioning that he successfully trained his first dog (a rescue dog with behavioral aggression issues) at the age of 11!
His passion, enthusiasm and love for the dog is evident in his many years of experience as well as his hunger to learn more and it is all this that has made him what he is today! He has had extensive training in the area of canine behavior and training! His studies have included 2 summers in the kennels of the New Skete Monestary, 1 year mentoring with Dr. Ian Dunbar, 1 year mentoring with Ed Frawley, and 2 years association with Michael Ellis!
He is a current Professional Member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and owns and operates his own dog training business with 45+ years of professional Canine Training experience in his kitty! You are in good hands with Scott!
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