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.