Over and over and over.

We've all heard the rule, "say it once and once only."  But there you are wanting your pup to sit and having asked now, twelve or more times you give up and walk away.  I see people over using verbal cues all the time, even dog trainers.  Many ask their dog to stay while holding their hand up and repeating stay, stay, stay.  Like the arm waving overload that tends to confuse matters of clearly understanding; so does the over use of verbal cues.

When I teach a new behavior, I rarely use a verbal cue.  Of course sometimes a cue will just slip out as I have been training for so long, it just happens.  But I like to keep the words out of the scene until the dog has a grasp on what we are doing.  Whether shaping or luring the behavior; it is done so without any verbal coaxing.  This way the dog can think clearly and without the clutter of extra words thrown in that typically confuse matters.

Once a dog has the understanding of the behavior and is somewhat reliably offering it; I will then add a verbal cue to it.  If you consider a behavior that in the process of being learned; there is a great deal of waiting.  Both when shaping and luring a behavior you must wait for the dog to carry out a certain degree of the behavior.  You may be working in baby steps so each section of the broken down complete behavior is rewarded.   The steps are repeated over and over again until you reach the final full behavior sequence.  At that point you work on reliability; meaning that the dog will perform the behavior at a good rate of success.  But what happens if your dog does not comply once a behavior is reliable?

First off most people under train a behavior; they put too much emphasis on a newly learned behavior.  Many people think that because their dog can do a sit up and bow trick at home that they can do it at a crowded park.  Some dogs can but most dogs need training in that crowded park before considering it a reliable behavior.  Once a behavior is reliable and that is not to say that it is 100% reliable; dogs will be dogs and there is always that unknown factor that can interfere.  But when a behavior is reliable and your dog does not fulfill the behavior with a positive action then do you ask again?  Yes and no.  Yes if you know what you are doing; no if you are just repeating a verbal cue in hopes that your dog will respond to the second request.

Repeating a verbal cue is enforcing.  No behavior should ever be left to fizzle out due to frustration.  Just yesterday Elsa dropped her ball when we were doing retrieve work to smell something that caught her nose.  I called to her "bring it," and she gave me only a slight indication that she had heard me.  I immediately started walking her way with every intention of picking up the ball and ending the game.  But halfway there she looked up at me; she knows that I mean business so I said to her again, "bring it."  She immediately brought me the ball and dropped it at my feet.  She not only understood that I wanted the ball brought to me but that if she stops mid way I'm doing something about it.  Even though the game of chuck it is a fun outlet for her; we are either doing it or we are not.  This is not the time to be sniffing around and smelling the roses.  I grab some serious run time when I can get it so she must be serious and dedicated enough to give it her all.

If I ask my dogs to do something and they snub me, I act immediately.  There is no time like the present and that is the precise moment that you are not responded to.  Timing is everything but you must also weigh in external stimulus; the environment and those within it when a dog does not comply.  They are not robots and I do not expect my dogs to not react to things around them.  That said I will work through a new distraction or stimulus to get to the positive response stage.  Dogs have to learn about responding in different environments, distraction levels and interruptions. There is most definitely a time and a place where verbal cue repeats are required.  But they must be used strategically and not simply said over and over again.

Too many people keep repeating a command in hopes of a positive response from their dog.  When they do not receive it they give up in frustration.  That is where the biggest problem falls, giving up.  Your dog learns very quickly that a verbal cue means nothing .  After several attempts you will grow frustrated and let the cue fizzle out and die.  No verbal cue should ever end on a negative note.  If you are not given a positive response, then use it until you do.  But don't just stand in one spot and continue to do the same thing over and over in hopes of receiving an alternative response. Act, teach and guide your dog to success.