Learning Through Repetition (Max, I said Sit!)

June 5, 2009

By Dianna Young

You probably already are aware that whatever your dog learns from you he learns through repetition. What you may not be aware of, however, is that he may learn a lot of things from you that you had not  intended to teach.

Take, for example, Max. He’s a pleasant, intelligent, medium-sized dog with a winning personality. He’s lived with his owner for several years, and she knows that he has a clear understanding of the command, “Sit.”

His owner decides that this is an appropriate moment for Max to hunker his hind-end down on the ground, so she looks him in the eye, makes sure she has his full attention, and utters the command: “Sit.” Max stares back, his long, pink tongue hanging endearingly out of the side of his mouth, the appearance of a good-natured doggie grin on his countenance. And he ignores the command.
“I said, ‘Sit!'” his owner says. Max just continues to grin.

Her frustration is growing now, because she believes that Max is disobedient. She raises her voice.
“Dammit, Max! I said, ‘Sit!'” She takes him firmly by the collar, but before she can force him into the “sit” position, he does it himself.

They’ve been through this scenario before, and it invariably makes her angry. She doesn’t want a disobedient dog. But Max isn’t necessarily a disobedient dog. He’s an intelligent one, because he’s just shown her that he can count.

What Max’s owner doesn’t realize is that she has taught him — through repetition — that she will not enforce her command until after the third or fourth time she says it. That is the only time, Max has learned, that she will follow through and compel him to carry her wishes out. So, why should he sit any sooner? Apparently, she’s not serious the first several times.

What Max’s owner should have done was correct him immediately after the first command by pulling up on his collar, pushing down on his hindquarters, and putting his fanny in an actual “sit.” She should have done the enforcement directly after she gave a command if she didn’t get immediate compliance. And she needed to do it every time. She needed to teach Max — through repetition — that if he didn’t comply on the first command, a correction always would follow. Always.

The handler changed her handling technique. And, before long, Max was complying on the first command.

Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at info@camanoislandkennels.com. Her web site address is http://www.camanoislandkennels.com. Or visit us at facebook.

One Response to “Learning Through Repetition (Max, I said Sit!)”
  1. Kimberly Gauthier says:

    This is very interesting. I don’t have a dog, but I plan to adopt a pal when I move into a house (I’m in a condo now). I’m a new pet photographer and I’ve seen this exact behavior with a lot of my clients. I always thought that the dogs were just over excited (due to all of the attention; they are the star of a photo shoot), but they’re counting.


Leave a Reply