If you’re a professional dog trainer, you’ve repeated “never repeat a command” countless times. Surely it’s one of life’s greatest ironies. I’ve said it myself many a time, and I’ve written about how hard it is to follow that advice. How easily the second “Sit” comes after the first one, yes? I’ve gotten pretty good at saying things just once, although that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. If I had five bucks for every time I’ve repeated “Lie Down” to my working Border collies I’d be a rich woman. But still, I’m better than most… and am the first to explain why it’s so important not to repeat a command. (If you want your dog to respond to a signal, then repeating it simply teaches him to not respond to the first time you say it and wait for the second.)
So answer me this: the man I call the “Tiger Woods of Herding,” Allisdair McRae, and the only woman who’s ever won the International Sheep Dog Trails, Julie Simpson-Hill, both repeat their commands, and do it on purpose. You can’t fault their success: between them they’ve won just about everything there is to win on the herding circuit. Their dogs are willing, brilliant and precise workers, who are as responsive as anyone’s in the world. And yet, if a dog doesn’t Lie Down when asked, their response is to say it again, but this time louder, as a correction (Do remember that we are talking about working dogs who can be 500 yards away from you, moving at a dead run, dancing on the line between herding and predation. This is NOT a time you can simply ignore behavior that is incorrect, honest.). This method does not lead to dogs who don’t lie down the first time that they are asked, it leads to dogs who are responsive and precise.
If this just resulted in winning trials, but with dogs who were cowed and fearful it’d be one thing, but that’s not the case. Allisdair and Julie can get into the head of a dog as well as anyone I know, and as far as I’ve seen, are relentlessly kind and thoughtful about working each and every dog.
Food for thought.
Hi, love the blog!
I especially love having these pearls of wisdom re-examined and discussed. So, here
I know this is really late, but I just found the blog and started reading it. I’m very excited about it! The method that works so well for Allisdair is very hard to translate to someone who is not already a brilliant dog handler. A couple of friends went to his clinic and started up with that method, and now their dogs have so completely lost any sense of “lie down” that it’s like the wind in their ears. They only got part of the method- saying the command more than once, not how exactly he does it that makes it work, which I don’t really know. I’ve watched his training videos, but that’s not really enough to know the whole method.
Another method, which I have picked up with some success, was told to me by a couple of handlers, which is to wait until your dog does something and then tell him to do it. So you wait until your pup is already running toward you and then say “pup, here”, or you wait until he’s tired and lies down, and as he does it you say “lie down” . I have tried this with a 2 year old Australian Shepherd I just got. I started working him on sheep, and he was very sensitive, and didn’t really have confidence or trust in me, so I didn’t want to push him around and make him do things. He generally did the right things with sheep, so I’d just put names on what he was doing.
This worked so well that he went from no lie down at all, not in the house or yard, to two weeks later he will lie down in the pen with the sheep, either before starting (and he will stay until I get set up) or during work if balanced up.
Lily Lim says
I too go by the principle of not repeating a cue. However, like you, I have been gulity of repeating a cue occasionally while (not delibrately though) training my dogs.
When the final behavior has been well generalised, don’t feel that it has resulted in it being less reliable, as a result of the occasional repeated cues.
What I found interesting about this blog post is that Allisdair and Julie actually do it delibrately. Not sure if I’ll ever try that…
Kinsey Barnard says
I have a 7 month old Australian Shepard. Thankfully, I started reading your books as soon as I got her at four months. Like everyone else I forget the one command rule but, when I’m on my game it works like magic.
So exactly what to you do as the next step when your dog doesn’t down on the first command? Do you go into something else, what?????
So what’s the alternative? If not repeat the command, then what?
This is incredibly non-informative, in that all it does is tell me what to NOT do.
I’ve been looking through at least 10 different websites and every time they only say “dont repeat a command because it teaches your dog to ignore you” and thats it.
There’s no solution, and it only leaves us frustrated dog owners to think “then WHAT DO I DO AFTER MY DOG IGNORES ME THE FIRST TIME”
Do i just leave it alone??? What do I do? Do I walk away? Do I physically scold him? What???
I’m sorry. This is the 11th website Ive visited and I still have no solution. It is super infuriating
Let me first say that I am NOT a dog trainer, this is just what has worked for my dog.
When your dog doesn’t respond to you the first time, do not repeat the command, instead you help them carry out the command physically. After that you give them a treat and say “good dog” or whatever your preferred method of congratulations is (I was very enthusiastic with my puppy, she’s a people pleaser to the max!). So for example if you are teaching “lie down,” I would say the command (I also used a simple corresponding hand signal, like pointing at the ground), and then physically help her lie down by gently pulling her front paws out and guiding her to the floor safely. Then give her a treat and a say “good girl” with lots of ear scratches and belly rubs. The first couple times I’m sure she thought I was nuts, but dogs will do anything for a treat and positive reinforcement. We did this over and over again for a while then I would wait until later in the day and try it again. We continued this until she consistently responded to the command the first time without help, and then I gradually took the treats away and just told her “good girl”.
Again, I am not a trainer, this is just the method that has helped me and my puppy!
I think the trick with repeating it is being able to ‘read’ the dog. My current dude is highly opinionated and there is a distinct difference in his body language and behavior between “I do not know what you are asking me to do” and “I know but am not sure I want to do it.” Repeating in the first instance doesn’t help, but in the second it’s communicating “yes, I really mean I want you to do the thing.”
I know with some dogs the idea is that they ALWAYS assume you really mean they must do the thing, but that is just not his personality. He doesn’t really *like* getting instructions about things, he likes to feel like he figured out the right thing to do by himself. So it doesn’t seem worth trying to cram a square peg into a round hole by expecting him to behave in the same way as dogs with different personalities do? As long as he’s got decent manners and listens when it’s important, I figure if it works it works. Though it does occasionally make for entertaining training challenges figuring out how he can ‘discover’ what we want him to learn “on his own”. He is very observant, which helps.