Training a dog of any breed or type can be challenging, and different breeds have different intelligence levels and temperament traits that mean there is no one size fits all approach to training that suits every dog. Even within dogs from the same breed or same litter, there can be marked differences in personality and preferences, which means that training needs to be bespoke-designed for the dog in question, and versatile enough to adapt on the go.
However, there are a number of common pain points for dog owners who are training their own dogs, or having issues with behaviours that have arisen over time, and one of these is knowing how many times a trainer should need to repeat a command before the dog in question complies.
It might seem that the obvious answer to this is that you should repeat the command until your dog displays the desired response – and it is certainly fair to say that one repetition of a command is not always enough in every situation. However, there is no point in repeating a command over and over if your dog isn’t reacting to it, is actively ignoring it, or doesn’t seem to understand what you want, and by repeating a command too many times, you can cause it to lose its relevance entirely.
In this article we will examine the factors to consider when you’re trying to determine how many times you should repeat a command before your dog obeys it, and tell you how to improve your dog’s responsiveness. Read on to learn more.
First of all, some dogs are much more amenable to training than others. Most dogs will enjoy being trained if you tackle the training in the right way, but every dog will top out at some point in terms of the number of commands they can learn and retain, and the complexity of those commands themselves.
All dogs should be able to follow basic commands like “sit” and “come,” but if you’re trying to teach your dog something a little more ambitious, you need to critically assess in the first instance whether or not your dog is really capable of learning and executing the command in question.
If your dog doesn’t take to a command quickly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot learn it, but that they may take a little longer – although you should also think about whether or not reliable compliance with the command will be possible when your dog has got to grips with it.
Does your dog understand the command?
It is important to ensure that your dog understands the meaning of the command that you are giving them, otherwise you will get increasingly more frustrated as your dog gets increasingly more confused.
If your dog’s ability to execute a command is patchy or if they seem to get it right at times but not others, they might not fully understand what you are asking them and are getting it right when they do nail it due to chance. Reinforce the reward when your dog does get things right until they fully understand it and are able to execute the command in question reliably.
A common issue that dog owners face is a situation in which the dog will execute a command reliably within a controlled training environment, but when you take it out into the world with all of its assorted distractions and competing stimulus, your dog fails to respond.
This can mean that a command will need to be repeated more often in distracting situations than otherwise, but you should still avoid repeating a command over and over if your dog isn’t paying attention.
Concentrate instead on teaching your dog to look to you for direction and to respond to their name when a lot is going on before giving them the command, ensuring that the command is clear and unambiguous and is heard or seen despite distractions.
Effective dog training requires a high level of consistency in the use of commands, which means using the same word, tone of voice, and demeanour every time to keep things clear for your dog. Additionally, the command should be used consistently every time it is required. For instance, if your dog is apt to jump up at people and you only tell them “down” some of the time but let them get away with this behaviour at others, they will see compliance with the command as optional and not mandatory.
The most intelligent dog breeds like the Border collie are very quick to learn commands, often picking up a new one within just one or two repetitions and exhibiting them reliably first time after that, assuming that the command is used regularly enough to keep it fresh in your dog’s mind.
Dog breeds that are less intelligent will tend to take longer (and need more repetitions) in order to both learn a command and execute it, and so you may find yourself needing to ask twice or three times on some occasions.
There is no strict rule of thumb dictating how many times is the maximum that you should repeat a single command before your dog complies – but if you find that you’re repeating a command more than three times and still aren’t achieving reliable compliance, go back to the drawing board, as something might be compromising your chances of success – and your dog’s understanding of what you want them to do.