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The 3 Rules of Follow-Through in Dog Training

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Every time you give a command (or cue), you are communicating more than just words to your dog. You're not only giving direction to your dog (which is excellent leadership by the way - good job!), you are teaching your dog what your expectations are when you give direction. When dogs respond inconsistently to our commands, it's almost always because we have taught them to do just that.

Golden Retriever sitting politely

Think about it. Do you ask your dog to sit, down, stay, or come, but only follow through if you're not too busy or distracted? Do you ask your dog to do one thing, but settle for another as "good enough"? Do you switch back and forth between commands, trying to find one your dog will actually listen to? We all do these things at one time or another, but if it becomes a habit --- then we are teaching our dogs that what we say has no meaning. Keep in mind, we can't explain later that "I really didn't mean that", to a dog! With them, how we follow through with our actions means everything.


There are three basic rules of follow-through in dog training:

Know your attention limitations. Training requires not just your dog's attention, but yours as well! And let's face it, there simply will be times when it's not practical to take your attention away from what you're doing, so that you can give it to your dog. Maybe you're on the phone with your boss, signing for a package at the door, or driving in heavy traffic. If you are in one of those situations that doesn't allow for you to excuse yourself briefly, so that you can follow through with your dog, don't give a command in the first place. It is better to say nothing than to teach your dog that your words mean nothing. Yes, it's that important! Giving direction, and then not following through to be sure your direction is complied with, communicates to your dog that your words have no consistent meaning, and actually sets you back in your training.

Don't waffle. There are times when all of us give a particular command, when in reality, we'd be perfectly happy if our dogs did a range of things. Maybe you've said come, when you really just want your dog to stop pestering the cat. Maybe you've said sit, when you really just want your dog to stop fidgeting and settle down! The problem is, it doesn't matter what you would settle for - your dog needs to know that your directions are "trustworthy". Once the command has been spoken, follow through with the exact command you gave, even if you don't really need for your dog to do that anymore.

Pick a command and stick to it. Again, this is about expectations. Let's say Serena wants to pet Sparky, but doesn't want him jumping all over her when she does it. She starts off well, asking Sparky to sit as he approaches. Sparky starts to sit, but then gets distracted and wanders past her. "Come!" calls Serena. Sparky turns around, and on his way back, notices the new houseplant and goes to check it out. "Leave it!", laments Serena. Suddenly Sparky remembers Serena is in the room, and comes bouncing over. "Off!!", Serena yells. Sparky stops, flops down on the floor for a belly rub, and a relieved Serena praises "Good Boy!".


Pretty funny, isn't it? Maybe familiar, too? Can you see Serena's mistake? You guessed it: no follow-through! Moving from command to command, hoping that eventually one will "work", actually teaches your dog to ignore you. After all, if we don't follow through on the first command, why in the world would our dog think that the next one, or one after that, should be any different? Choose a command - something you know your dog is capable of doing - then calmly and pleasantly persist until you get the response you asked for.

So, if you feel your dog's response to commands could be more consistent, start out by working on improving your follow-through. I guarantee your dog will thank you for it!


Julie Cantrell BSc, CDBC
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