Wait, Wait – Don’t Tell Me

By David Schmucker

My Dog Doesn’t Listen to Me

This is the number-one complaint about the family dog. There are several reasons why she doesn’t listen.  Whatever your dog is doing is more interesting or has a greater payoff than what you are offering.

Dogs don’t respond to guilt, emotional pressure or duty.  It is much, much simpler than that.  They respond to self-interest. That’s right – they are selfish.  “What’s in it for me?” is nature’s way of guiding animals to better decisions. We know what is in it for the human.  When the dog comes on command, there is a sense of control, direction and purpose. However, what is in it for your dog?  Unless the reward is superior to her current activity, she is going to ignor you.

Because I Said So

Self-interest in dogs is stronger than your verbal authority.  Oh, you can make a dog come to a loud threatening voice. The dog, however, is not coming, she is complying.  It is in her self-interest to avoid punishment.  Avoiding punishment also means avoiding the person who can inflict it.  This is an irrational way of encouraging a dog to come on command. 

A better example of “coming when called” is when a dog comes happily, quickly and expectantly.  Her self-interest is being served by coming to a reward that is usually of greater interest than her current activity – whether it is praise, a treat or something else she values.  Calling a dog with this mindset creates a sustainable “come command” that builds on itself.

I Heard You the First Time

Dogs are not very good at understanding human language.  A few words associated with certain behaviors, and that’s about it.  Even if a super-dog understood English, 200 hundred words would be extraordinary.  A human being with a 200-word vocabulary, on the other hand, would be a non-functioning person in society. Dogs are very good at hearing – much better than their human counterpart is.  So consider this scene.  The human is asking a dog to “sit.”  When the dog does not, the human begins to machine-gun the command in a louder and louder voice. 

What is wrong here?  Well, we know the command was heard the first time so there is no need to increase the volume.  We also know that dogs do not process language very well, so responding may take a few seconds. So repeating a command over and over with increasing volume is the opposite of what the dog needs!  In the dog’s mind the repeated verbal commands are crashing in one upon another and at high volume. It’s like putting the dog in front of a rock-concert like loudspeaker to boot.  Is there any wonder why there is slow compliance? 

Ahaa you say, “I have to repeat the command many times for my dog to sit.”  Suppose that your dog IS sitting on the first command but finishing the mental processing by the time you are on the sixth request?  In other words, is command numbers 2,3,4,5,6 just blocking command number 1 from working?  Try this simple experiment with your dog.  Ask your dog to sit once and then wait quietly for 30 seconds.  In my training sessions, about 70% of the dogs sit within 10-15 seconds.

If the dog is motivated, trained, and commanded once in a normal voice, sitting becomes a snap decision.  “Tessie, sit.”

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David Schmucker & Tessie

Senior Trainer

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