Often, as I am observing owners and their dogs I notice that the owners ask for a particular behavior several times before the dog offers it. For example, you ask Fido to sit. He doesn’t immediately sit, so you say it again, “sit”, only to again repeat yourself until Fido actually sits. In such cases, what he has learned is that the command is not just “sit”, but he thinks it is “sit sit sit, Fido, sit”. We’re often frustrated by his apparent lack of obedience, wondering why the dog is choosing not to listen to us. In reality, he’s just plain confused. Without a clear-taught command, he doesn’t know what you are asking him to do!
I always have my dogs “wait” at the door make eye contact with me before they are allowed to go outside. They are then released to go outside. For the most part, my boys figured it out pretty quickly. If they are focused on something beyond the door, I close it and start over again. My husband complains that the dogs won’t look at him. I decided to watch him as he took the dogs out to see why they wouldn’t respond to him. He got in front of them in the threshold and said “Wait” followed by some kissy noises, clicking of his tongue, calling their names and other odd noises intending to get their attention. They’d look very briefly, but wouldn’t hold the eye contact and wait for their release. I told him to shut the door, open it again and say wait, but not to make any other noises. Low and behold the dogs almost immediately sat down and looked up at him, holding the eye contact long enough to be released.
I think we all sometimes forget that dogs don’t understand English. They are so expressive that we think they can understand every word that we say to them. I know I am guilty of this sometimes. It is important to remember that while “sit” is a word to us with a specific meaning, to dogs it is a noise that they hear and are supposed to act upon. Keep commands short and simple. Don’t repeat yourself, or you’ll end up more frustrated. If your dog doesn’t offer the behavior that you’ve taught him right away move on to another command or walk away and come back to try again. Adding hand signals to supplement the verbal commands can help clarify the signals for your dog.
Make an effort not to have a one word with two meanings. For example, if you say “down” to have your dog lay down, don’t use it when you want them to get off of the sofa or stop them from jumping on a guest. Try using “off” as the command to keep your dog off the guests (it’s a hard habit to break, but believe me it’s much more effective)!