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Ask A Dog Trainer: Why Doesn’t My Dog Respond The First Time?

| Published on March 7, 2023
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At the dog park, do you have to call your dog’s name ten times before they come to you? Or maybe you have to say “sit” three times before they respond. It might feel like everyone else’s dog responds immediately, except yours.

Related: Spirit Dog Online Training Review: Is SpiritDog Really Worth It?

Many frustrated dog parents give up and assume their dog is stubborn, only listens when they want to, or, my personal favorite, is “dumb.” The truth, however, is that something most likely went wrong in your training. Luckily, you can fix it, but it will take some work.

Yorkie sniffing outside

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The Problem is Command Nagging

This term is what trainers call it when someone repeats a cue more than once. It can be a big issue for training. Why? Because you are undermining your own training!

When you first teach your dog a cue, you say the word once. But then that big nasty thing called “impatience” appears. Your dog just learned a cue and may be taking a second or two to think about what the word you said means. Or maybe they’re in a new environment and there are distractions they haven’t dealt with before.

Whatever the reason, your dog takes a little bit too long (in your opinion) and you say the cue again. And then again. Before you know it, you have said the word five or six times, and your dog finally sits.

Then, it becomes habit! Soon, you are “command nagging” almost immediately and for every cue.

Dog looking at owner

Poisoned Cues

So, what is command nagging doing from your dog’s perspective?

Your dog was just learning what that verbal cue meant, but you started repeating the word. Now, your dog learned that “sit, sit, sit” means sit.  The repetitive string of words has become the cue. Your dog no longer responds to just “sit” because, in their mind, you taught them that “sit, sit, sit” was the cue. Thus, your dog is going to wait for that third, fourth, or even fifth sit.

This works for any cue: their name, come, down, stay, etc. Sometimes, if the dog doesn’t know the cue well enough, hearing the word over and over doesn’t help them figure out what it means. Remember, they don’t speak our language!

Instead, your “nagging” just becomes background noise to your dog, just like the other 99% of the time you’re talking. Your dog may not even realize you’re talking to them.

Shih Tzu in bath tub

Or, you have used a command when you shouldn’t have. For example, if you call your dog to you for something they don’t like, such as a bath or nail trim, it may do more harm than good. You have now taught your dog that “come” means “things I hate.” This is a surefire way to teach your dog to not respond to your cues. At that point, the cue is poisoned.

How To Fix It

To fix these training errors, you are going to have to go back several steps to before you added the cue or lure and see if your dog will offer the behavior.

At first, don’t say the cue. When your dog is doing the desired behavior again (whether it was sit, come, eye contact, etc.), you can try re-adding your cue, which you will say one time.

If the cue is poisoned, you will find it quicker and easier to retrain your dog if you choose a different word. For example, instead of “sit” use “chill,” “settle,” or “seat.” For “come,” use “here” or “with me.” Then, be patient as your dog figures out what the new cue means!

Training dog outside

Also, have patience in new places or when distractions are around because that might make your dog’s response time slower than you think it should be. If your dog doesn’t respond at all, then something about the environment is making your dog nervous or stressed – repeating the cue won’t make them listen! Instead, adjust the environment until your dog is in a position where they will respond, and work from there.

Consider Online Training

Training doesn’t have to be a chore. Let SpiritDog help you make training time a fun, productive bonding experience between you and your best friend! Whether you want to work out bad habits or strengthen good canine manners, SpiritDog can help guide you!

SpiritDog’s courses are developed by real trainers who know that the best teacher for your dog is the person they love most in the world – you! Even if you’ve never trained before, you can get better behavior out of your pup with SpiritDog’s guidance. With so many happy pet parents who have used their courses, SpiritDog guarantees 100% satisfaction!

SpiritDog offers over 17 science-based courses, as well as 12 free bonus courses to get you and your pup bonding and building better behaviors. Their Tackling Reactivity Bundle can help you keep your pup safely by your side and help anxious or reactive pups keep calm. For new pet parents, the Ultimate Puppy Program can help you start your pup off on the right paw from the beginning. Those who want to teach their pets great behaviors at any age, check out their Ultimate Masterclass Bundle. Whatever you need, SpiritDog can help keep your dog safe, happy, and well-behaved!

iHeartDogs is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

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