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In this post, the third in a series about Dr. Ian Dunbar’s new seminar, Science-Based Dog Training (with Feeling), we’ll begin our foray into some of the issues that are giving positive trainers something to bark about. (See the end of this post for links to previous posts in this series.)

Today’s topic: Repeating cues.

“Do not repeat a cue. I repeat. Do not repeat a cue.” That was the dog training catechism I was taught.

When someone else would ask puppy Sadie to sit over and over, barely taking a breath between iterations, as did the receptionist at the puppy daycare I took her to once a week for a few hours, I’d silently blow my Kong. Not that I reprimanded the nice woman. I didn’t. But, I did calmly ask her to please say the cue once only and give Sadie a chance to respond.

So, imagine how my ears perked up when Dr. Dunbar said repeating cues is not a problem. Well, actually, he said more than that, and I would be misleading you if I were to leave it at no hay problema.

Dr. Dunbar talked about repeating cues in context of the 3 Stages of Lure-Reward Training.

Briefly, in Stage 1 we teach our dog verbal cues for behaviors and actions so that we may instruct the dog what to do. Dr. Dunbar refers to this as teaching our dogs ESL.

At Stage 2 we focus on motivating our dogs to really want to do what we ask them to do by, among other things, incorporating life rewards such as playing with their doggy pal.

In Stage 3 we insist that our dogs comply with our verbal cues. You know, sit means sit, as in put your butt, and only your butt, on the ground immediately.

I think it’s important to say at this juncture that Dr. Dunbar isn’t of the mind that Rover must comply immediately to every cue ever uttered without exception. In fact, he employs a DogCon system that communicates to Rover the level of urgency and performance pizazz being requested ranging from: “It would be nice if you would sit, or whatever,” to “‘Sit’ now as if your life depended on it!” I won’t go into it here, but you can read about DogCon at Dog Star Daily by searching “DogCon.”

Okay, so what do we do if Rover doesn’t sit when cued, and we want to teach him to comply without question? This is where repeating cues comes into play, when, and only when, the conditions of Stages 1 & 2 have been met. Rover knows beyond a shadow of a doubt what sit means and is 90% reliable in performing the behavior on cue, and he is highly motivated to sit under most circumstances…..except, well, today, say, at puppy class where he’s found a empty treat jar to investigate.

Enter repeating the cue. Here’s how it might go:

  • Seated in your chair, quietly say, “Rover, sit.”
  • Rover, who is about 4 feet away, continues sniffing the jar.
  • Stand up and say, “Rover. Sit. Sit.” Then give the hand signal for sit.
  • Rover doesn’t sit. He doesn’t even hear you. He’s absorbed in pushing the jar, that he just knocked over, around the floor.
  • Take 1 step towards Rover, and say “Rover. Sit. Sit!,” Give the hand signal for sit once. Then, twice.
  • Rover looks at you as if to say, “You want something?”
  • Don’t take another step. Stand where you are. Say, “R-o-v-e-r. S-i-t!” Followed by your hand signal.
  • Rover sits!
  • “Thank you.”
  • Then say, “Rover, come,” and back up a few steps so Rover moves toward you.
  • Sit.”
  • Rover sits in front of you.
  • “Good dog. Go play.”

Let’s see. The first sit took 6 verbal cues, 4 hand signals, standing up, and taking 1 step towards Rover before he complied. Finally, he sat after one verbal cue. That’s the point. Requiring compliance after one verbal cue before releasing Rover to play.

Repeat the exercise after Rover has been playing for short time. With each successive trial he should be ‘sitting’ while farther and farther away from you, and after fewer and fewer verbal and hand cues, until he is responding to one verbal cue at a distance.

Dr. Dunbar calls this procedure Repetitive reinstruction until compliance (RRC). The aim? “I want an owner who can give a casual verbal cue from a distance and the dog sits. Then, ‘go play’. The person gives no intention signals. She or he is just sitting casually still and tells the dog to sit.”

I decided to take RRC for a test drive with Sadie’s BFF, Romeo. He meets the necessary criteria. He knows very well the verbal cue, sit, and he’s typically well motivated to comply.

Mr. R. was eviscerating a purple gorilla about 4 feet from me in our living room.

  • “Romeo, sit,” I said nonchalantly.
  • Romeo lifted his head to look at me with the ape dangling limply from his mouth.
  • “R-o-m-e-o. SIT.” I said with quiet insistence.
  • Romeo didn’t budge.
  • I stood up. “Sit.” I gave the hand signal for sit.
  • Romeo sat!
  • “Romeo. Here. Sit
  • Mr. R. dropped the toy and sat down in front of me. I told him, “Go play.”

A minute or so later I again cued Romeo to sit. He was about 8 feet from me this time and exuberantly shaking the now gutted purple gorilla. He sat instantly.

“Learning theorists say this (RRC) won’t work or shouldn’t work,” Dr. Dunbar said. “All I know is that when we do this routine we will end up with a dog who will sit at a distance on a single cue no matter what the dog is doing.”

I’m not sure why RRC seems to work either. One thing, though, as I understand it, RRC is not the same as repeating a single cue in rapid succession so that sit morphs into sitsitsitsit. There’s a brief pause (a second, maybe) between cues, both verbal and physical,

To be honest, even though I subscribe to the one cue doctrine, I occasionally do repeat cues either because I think I need to, as in Sadie, wait….wait, even though she hasn’t budged, or because she doesn’t comply as fast I would like. If the behavior I’m cuing seems to be falling apart I get out the clicker and shape it up.

Most dog guardians (That’s what we’re called in Boulder. Really. Dog owners are referred to as guardians in municipal law. This affectation does not, however, translate into Boulder being particularly dog friendly. It’s not. Don’t get me started.) in my experience aren’t into the finer points of dog training. They do what comes naturally and that includes repeating cues. Yes, I know. Sometimes to distraction. But, I think that’s in part what Dr. Dunbar is trying to address with RCC. He seems to have found a path of least resistance. People apparently can repeat cues and ultimately get compliance when saying the cue once.

What do you think? How does this work?


At the close of the Denver seminar there were a few remaining DVD’s on the sales table in the back of the room. Dr. Dunbar didn’t want to lug them home and asked me to give them away. How cool is that?

The DVD’s:

You’ll receive a set of 3 DVD’s:

  1. Training Dogs with Dunbar: Fun training for you and your dog
  2. Training the Companion Dog: Adapted from the ‘Dogs with Dunbar’ television program
  3. Every Picture Tells a Story: An educational Aid for Children to explore the language of dogs

How do I enter to win the DVD’s?

Leave a comment to this post by 11:59 pm MDT April 4, 2011 and you will be entered into the giveaway.

A winner will be selected by a random number generator.

I will notify the winner by email and ask for their address. The winner will have 24 hours to reply. If they do not reply within 24 hours, I will notify the second person on the list created by the random number generator, and so on.

Due to shipping logistics, only residents of the Unites States and Canada will be entered in the giveaway.


Dr. Dunbar’s Lure-Reward Training Revival

Dog Training Seminar in a Kong

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111 Responses to ““Rover, sit. Sit. SIT. SitSitSit!!!” (The Giveaway)”

  1. BirdRoughsIt says:

    This is so interesting! I may try it with Daph… it goes against everything I know! Which, of course, makes it more intriguing. I’m loving all the Dunbar posts and tweets by the way – thanks for sharing!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Wonderful summary of RRC. Love Dr. Dunbar’s approach. Would be overjoyed to win a DVD!

  3. Hilary says:

    This post is of particular interest, as there is so much controversy about repeating cues. It’s the first time I’ve heard of the term RRC, so am anxious to try it the way it’s suggested here on dogs who know the cue… but I learned to back away from repeating cues from trainers who say “the dog has already heard you; wait it out.” I’ve had success with waiting, but maybe RCC is the path of least resistance. Thanks for sharing this; I’d love to learn more in those DVDs! But in any case, I’d also love to hear from trainers who are successful with or without repeating the cues.

  4. Sarah F says:

    I have to agree that I was skeptical but it did seem to work. I do this with my oldest dog who is a 9 year old Siberian husky. She’s the most well trained of my dogs but also the most free spirited. Using this system really works for her. If she wants to get what she wants she has to work for it but she doesn’t always comply the first time. Dunbars system has really helped to increase her compliance rate. I think it is a good way to have thee dog understand that not listening is just going to make them have to work harder but it’s not going to harm them. My thought would be if a person has to do this proceedure more than the odd time though that more training is needed.

  5. I’m interested in this – interested enough to give it a try. I appreciate that you’ve explained it’s not the same as the typical unsuccessful trainer/dogowner’s 3-rep cues, as in, “sit-sit-SIT,” then Moxie sits, but only after she’s heard the “complete” cue (3x “sit” with voice raised or toughened on the last) … because if that actually was the best way to *teach* sit, thousands (millions?) of dogowners would never have needed to read training books or attend classes.
    I haven’t seen the video or had the good fortune of seeing/hearing Ian explain this in person, so I’m relying on the written version. If I’m interpreting the dashes and capitalized letters right, in my mind’s ear I hear those repeated commands drawn out (d-r-a-w-n o-u-t) or spoken louder (LOUDER). If that’s correct, is that done to make the words a stronger stimulus than whatever else has captured the dog’s attention, or (and?) to sound a little bit threatening? Like the mother who uses her child’s first-middle-last name only when the kid is “bad”? Curiouser and curiouser.

    • You’re right about the dashes. Dr. Dunbar says that we should use variations in our voice to convey urgency, among other things, to the dog when giving a cue. Finally, and ideally, the dog should comply with the cue stated in a normal voice or even a whisper.

  6. Edie says:

    One of the great things about Dr. Dunbar — and, if I may make a sweeping statement, most positive learning theorists — is a lack of rigidity. What matters is what works, both for the dog and for the, um, guardian, in real life situations. Theories can follow to explain what works but they’re not set in stone. Which makes this a process that engages a lot of people rather than expecting them to obey commands without question them.

    And yes I’d like those CDs!

  7. I do this thing where I ask Lilly to “Try Again” if she doesn’t respond to a cue. It’s something we learned in agility. Where if she biffed something, we would run happily back to the starting point, and I’d say “Try Again.” I managed to get her to generalize to other context, and it often works. It has become our shorthand for, “I know you heard me … now, please, do as I ask.”

    This RRC sounds a bit like it uses the premack principle in that final release. Do you think?

  8. Leah Roberts says:

    This is interesting and I can see how it would work. As a trainer, I would be able to judge when to repeat a cue and when to allow a still-learning dog to process the information without turning it into a nag. However, the last thing my human students need, who aren’t even aware that they ARE repeating cues (nagging) even when it’s pointed out, is permission to do so. I can better see introducing this concept in, say, an Advanced class than a Puppy class.

    This is similar to why I no longer teach with lures. I know when and how to fade the lure. I can instruct when and how to fade the lure. I can’t go home with the students and work it for them. I got very tired of seeing the majority of my students still luring dogs into a down by moving a treat to the floor in front of their noses on graduation day. Now that I capture downs, the dogs are doing it on hand signal/verbal cue – and from any starting position – immediately.

    Dogs are easy to train. Humans… not so much. We have to make it very easy for them. :}

    • Leah, thanks for your comment. I recall reading a post you wrote, I think for DSD, where you said it was easier to capture a ‘down’ and lure it. That makes sense to me. I did use a lure with Sadie, but she was easy. I work with a friend’s dog who simply will not be lured into a down. Capturing is the way to go for him. And, he’s clicker savvy, so it works very nicely.

  9. KenzoHW says:

    I am going to print this and share with the trainers on our dog training school just because I want to see their faces :) Of course I also give it a try with Kenzo and Viva and see if it really does help. It is worth a try, doing the one cue only doesn’t seem to have the desired – longer term – effect, maybe this has?!

    • Hi there. Oh please share the trainer’s reactions! Good luck with Kenzo and Viva (I’m soooo glad she’s doing well. Makes my heart happy.), and please let me know how it goes.

  10. Oh, pick me, pick me!

    Repeating cues just seems to go with the primate territory. I know this, and want to work with rather than against people, so my general rule is that only when the dog offers the behavior the first time they’re cued do they earn a reward.

    So if someone asks their dog for a sit and he doesn’t respond to the cue after an appropriate time period, they can recue. If he sits, they can verbally praise, get the dog moving, and cue the sit again. If he sits the first time, CT! If not, same protocol as before.

    In some instances, where people are really habitual and the dog is frustrated or confused, I’ve also used differential reinforcement. “Sitting” after a double or triple cue = cheerio (really low value), sitting the first time they’re asked = bit of meatball.

    • Dog training would be so easy if it weren’t for people! LOL!

    • barrie says:

      That is exactly what Susan Garrett does as well Casey :-) Susan also taught me to use a lot of differential reinforcement routinely in training both with playing different treat values off against one another and in using tug or a thrown ball as the reinforcer for brilliant performance. This does make setting up for training sessions mildly annoying with sardines, kibble, a ball and a tug at the very least 😉

  11. barrie says:

    I have really enjoyed your summary of Dr. Dunbar’s seminar very much Deb!

    I had hoped that I could make it to the one in Cincinnati in May but that is not looking like an option so I will cross all fingers and toes and send a prayer to Sirius that I get picked in the drawing :-)

    The RCC thing is so counter to Susan Garrett’s method that I am definitely going to try it on the little Bichon mix currently curled up behind me who is such a little stinker about darn near everything!

    • LOL! I know! This is SO not Susan Garett! Please let me know how it goes with your Bichon friend.

      Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. 😉

  12. Who am I to argue with Dr Dunbar and his success. I will however continue to attempt to use a cue only once. IMO if one is needing to repeat the cue perhaps the cue as added too soon in the learning process. Note to trainer, get the behavior moving well before adding the cue.

    • I totally get where you’re coming from! Intellectually the ‘one cue doctrine’ makes sense to me also, and it’s pretty much what I live by with Sadie. Still, I find RRC interesting because it does seem to work, apparently. But, why?

  13. Alyssa says:

    Intriguing post. I had always heard about only using the verbal cue once, so this is somewhat startling.

  14. This is intriguing, and I’m going to have to do more thinking about it — and experimenting with it! Thanks for a very interesting post!

  15. Ashley says:

    Intriguing! I do repeat some cues like “wait”, but in general try my best for just one with other cues. That being said, I have definitely repeated cues in a “firmer” voice – definitely didn’t think to follow it up with another single cue behaviour followed by go play. Very cool!

  16. Patty says:

    Interesting post! I will have to give it a try. It seems contradictory to what I have learned especially in the context of recall. You want the immediate response when you say come not for your dog to wait for you to say it multiple times and walk towards you. Interesting food for thought! Thanks!

  17. Donna says:

    My favourite story that I share frequently with my clients is my brother’s counting dog. (an English Springer Spaniel) My brother repeated commands frequently and what I noticed was that Jasper would wait until her heard the “sit” command 8 times before he plunked down. I tested it and he consistently sat after hearing the cue 8 times. It didn’t matter if the verbal cue became louder, softer, done in a whisper or matched with a hand signal. Eight was his magic number.

    RIP you darling counting dog!

  18. barrie says:

    Another question kind of based on Casey’s reply: is this actually easier for people to wrap their heads around? I mean it honestly to me seems like it is making the criteria for the person kind of unclear: yes you can use a second cue but only in this certain way that is very specific.

    • Good question. I don’t really know. To hear Ian talk about RRC, it seems that it does make sense to people. Although, I hear you. Perhaps it helps to keep the end goal in mind–namely, the dog complies when give a verbal cue once.

  19. Wow, what a great give-away! And, this is great news – I’m terrible at only giving a command once. Now I can adjust my behavior and help both me and the dogs. Thanks so much, Deborah.

  20. Melf says:

    Well this is certainly more interesting than I expected! (Not that I don’t enjoy reading your posts!) All this time I was taught never to repeat the command too. How interesting that Ian has said it is okay using the method/approach above. I am SO going to try this!

    Daisy always sits immediately, but Jasper always seems to be thinking that it’s more of a statement than a request, so he doesn’t always sit on the first attempt anyways (and I always thought Shelties were quick learners!). he will be the perfect subject to try this out on. Thanks to Go Pet Friendly for reposting on FB! I would have missed this otherwise!

  21. Kristin says:

    Interesting post. I usually try to wait it out when my dog ignores me but I’ll have to try this. Recently found your blog and read through your archives in a day. It’s been a great resource for me and my fearful mini schnauzer. Would love to be entered into the give away. Thanks!

  22. EmilyS says:

    it’s fascinating when reality collides with what you “know” to be true!
    Like hearing Aimee Sadler in a shelter playgroup workshop assert that humping is not necessarily a precursor to a fight/aggression. I silently shook my head and said to myself, you’re just asking for trouble. Then watched in a randomly assembled (mostly) pit bull type dog group, one happy little boy go around humping numerous other dogs (male and female) and not a single one raised the slightest object via sound or body language.

    I think that’s the definition of “cognitive dissonance!”

  23. Jana Rade says:

    Interesting :-) I “grew up” on Patricia McConnell’s “Never repeat a command. Never repeat a command.” My strategy is the get the dog’s attention first, before giving the instruction at all = I don’t give an instruction unless I’m sure I have the dog’s attention. I might repeat the name or other sounds to get the attention, but not the command itself. What we normally do when we don’t get a compliance, we might clear our throat, or tap our foot on the floor, or withdraw attention from the dog and try again later.

    • I hear you! Like I said, I was taught by my mentors the ‘one cue doctrine,’ and I prefer it. For me, repeating cues could become a slippery slope to sloppy training. That said, what I heard Ian saying is that RRC is another way that works—although we’re not sure why or how—to get to the place where the dog complies after one verbal cue. As you said, “Interesting.” :-)

  24. PartyMarti says:

    You know, when my children were very young I used some of these same techniques and philosophy so that they would respond to my instructions so that if we were ever in public or in danger, they knew who to pay attention to, their Mom! Now I am an empty nester with a bichon and a boxer. Whether it is my human babies or my canine babies, I provide a good play environment and good care but need to also have the ability to have some requested and required responses. I’d love to listen to the CD’s.

  25. Nancy Little says:

    The first time I went to a dog trainer was 17 years ago. Was taught to never say the command more than once. Was trained to use the prong collar, which of course is a big no no with a lot of people now. Said command once then was taught to very gently jerk on collar until dog did what u wanted. she always told me I could jerk harder but I just couldn’t. A light touch was all that was needed. But that dog was the best dog ever. Also used treats to teach. But I have 3 other dogs now and I do not use prong collars. So to learn a new way to teach my dogs would be very helpful in my household.

  26. Tim says:

    My Dogs could Use this info if only they could read… I will just have to read it to them…


  27. Angela Watts says:

    Sounds interesting, might have to mull it over a bit when I’m more awake. I’ve always used the wait-it-out method, as we clicker train and most of our dogs will go through a dozen different learned behaviors if they don’t get it right at first.

  28. Melissa Noyes says:

    Ha! I’ve recently been scouring Dog Star Daily for tips while training my highly anxious foster and I think this little exercise might just work! I’ll have to try it this weekend! Thanks for the Dunbar posts – wish I could make it to his Seminars!

  29. We’d love a chance at these dvd’s. Gus is a very smart little dogger (I know, biased much?) and we’re always looking for ways to teach him new things and keep him challenged. We’re both very much visual people, so having the dvd’s as a training tool would be such a help!

  30. Karen says:

    I have been uncomfortable with the idea of repeating cues but then am stumped when my Murphy is busy doing whatever (tearing up cardboard, playing with a Kong, etc.), doesn’t hear me (or I’m not as interesting as whatever he’s doing) and I’m left sitting there thinking, “Okay, what do I do now??”

    So thanks for this post. Much appreciated!

  31. Robbin says:

    I agree that “Sit.”…..”Sit.”…….”Sit” is not the same as “sitsitsitSIT” which is what I see so many do. I have done something similar with one of my dogs and for a while he thought that me standing up and approaching was the sit cue :-)

  32. Dawn says:

    Oh I would love to win the DVDs.. I have been following Ian Dunbar for years and am always all ears when he teaches! I have been one of those trainers that always said to say a command one time only as well.. going to research this more and try it with my dogs! So important to continue to educate ourselves!!

  33. Carrie says:

    It seems like the extra sit commands are mostly being used to get the dog’s attention. I think this starts to work faster and faster because it takes less time to get the dog’s attention once they catch on to the game. By repeating sit, it gives the dog the information that he needs to know what to do the second he starts to pay attention. It could really be argued in this situation that the dog doesn’t even hear the first few “sits”. What I am wondering is if this same training scenario would work if you wanted to teach your dog to give a variety of behaviors at a distance. Could each new behavior be taught in the same way? Or, having learned the sit, would the dog offer a sit, regardless of the command that was given? The word doesn’t seem as important in this training scenario as the pattern. The dog learns that the faster he complies, the faster he can go back out and play. I guess it’s making sure that you have that high compliance and understanding of and to the word before you start this exercise. I love Ian Dunbar. I wish I had caught his conference when he was out here on the West Coast. I would absolutely love to win those dvds.

    • “I guess it’s making sure that you have that high compliance and understanding of and to the word before you start this exercise.” Yes. That’s my understanding.

  34. I am going to try this out later. I wonder what our success will be.

  35. Marge says:

    First – I am not worthy. Way too many talented trainers have already commented. I am in awe of their skills & experience, especially Dr Dunbar. Here is an average person’s response. Granted, I am a bit more “dog nerd” than “average pet owner.” 

    I dont want escalated cues to be part of my relationship with my dog. I think it comes dangerously close for most people to cross over into intimidation & R-.  Why do you see an improved response?  Because it’s become clear to the dog (through repetition) that your playing the “sit” game. If the dog is fluent in sit and does a couple of sits, he’s more like to respond because he knows the likelihood of “sit” being cued is high. 

    I’ve sat in on classes where owners where taught to use their stern voice to cue “leave it” & repeat it until the dog backs away from the treat.  Owners lapse instantly into The Intimidator and the dogs instantly start offering calming signals.  It is sad and not the type of relationship I want with my dog. While I may not be the norm, I think there are a lot of people just like me just waiting to be shown a different way. 

    That said, I agree it is easier to train dog behavior than human behavior.

    • Thank you for you thoughtful reply. Indeed, intimidation is not where we want to go with our dogs.

      • Jeffy says:

        I agree that there seems to be some level of intimidation involved in this training – the seminar in the UK included holding the the collar under the chin to repeat the sit….sit…sit. It bothers me that a couple of people here have said they are going to try this technique with fearful dogs. There’s too much to go wrong here in the hands of people who aren’t skillful in dog training and I would not introduce this to a pet class. We’re trying to step away from intimidation, this seems like a step backwards.

        • I wasn’t at the seminar in the UK—unfortunately—I love the UK, but one of the things Ian cautioned about over and over in the Denver seminar was not to instill fear or pain when training. Also, as i understand it, RRC is used only after the dog knows the cue and is 90% reliable in performing it and is highly motivated to do so. So RRC comes into play when working with a little more distance or more distractions than the situation in which the dog reliably performs the cue. Also, Ian does practice lots of collar grabs, we did the same in the puppy class I took Sadie to. The collar grabs are always followed by a big reinforcer, usually “go play” assuming that’s what the dog wants. Collar grabs, IMHO, should never be used to punish. We grab, I’ll speak for myself, I grab Sadie’s collar when I want to protect her from something. It doesn’t happen often. She’s going on 5 years and we still practice a collar grab or two a day followed by something fun.

    • Heather says:

      Marge, I like your description of ‘The Intimidator’. I had a dinner guest tonight who spoke to my 18 m/o female bc this way throughout the evening. She’s shy, pretty well trained and we speak to her in quiet and positive tones. She kept offering submissive behaviors and looked a little confused that she couldn’t seem to please him. I finally just removed her. It was disturbing to watch..the dog was civilized, the human was kind of barbaric!

  36. edith chase says:

    Ian Dunbar is awesome!

  37. Theresa Bergeron says:

    I’d love to win the DVDs. And after I view them I’ll donate them to my training club.

  38. Lori Diamond says:

    Very interesting! Can’t wait to try it with my own dogs!

  39. Jackie says:

    I’m one of those “guardians” who knows better — but ends up repeating cues anyway. When Mr. Frodo Puggins is focused on an interesting smell, he simply doesn’t hear me the first time. Or the second. But eventually he does…. Maybe following Dr. Dunbar’s guidelines, I can improve response time. Thanks for sharing this information.

  40. bonnie says:

    i last attended obedience class about 16 years ago in the olden(certainly not golden) days of choke collars and rolling over… i left that class horrified and never went back! kept reading every new book on dog behaviour and training and “worked’ with my belgium malinois on learning good manners, hand signals, frisbee, and vocabulary using positive reinforcement. being visual i would have loved to had a dvd to watch on dog training. my boomer was a beloved family member for 12and a half years. still miss him horribly.

  41. Jamie Dunbar says:

    Great post Deborah! Once again you’ve done a wonderful job of explaining some of Ian’s more complicated ideas. I think that the biggest factor in the effectiveness of repeating a cue is the follow through, and what you were mentioning about DogCon. I think that a large part of the reason why repeating commands is frowned upon is because so many people repeat the command, and then they GIVE UP because their dog is ignoring them. This teaches dogs that they can ignore us, and that they can listen and obey us only when they feel like it. I believe the key to RRC is that you don’t give up until the dog complies. The only way the dog can end the exercise is by obeying the command. If you enforce compliance consistently, the dog will learn that listening is the quickest way to get back to whatever it is they were enjoying. Of course, we don’t always have the ability to enforce our commands, and sometimes we don’t really need compliance. But that’s for us to decide, not our dogs. The beauty of the DogCon system is it allows us to communicate to our dogs when they are in a MUST DO situation. Of course this means that when we initiate a DogCon MUST DO command we must be prepared to follow through.
    (And I’ll remove myself from the running for the DVDs, as I’ve got hundreds of each one!)

    • Thank you so much for your comment and kind words! I appreciate your expanding on DogCon and emphasizing the importance of follow-through to the success of RRC. It’s difficult to convey hours of Dr. Dunbar’s informative and engaging lectures in a few blog posts. I worry I won’t do them justice. So I wholeheartedly welcome your help in clarifying his ideas. Thank you again.

  42. Nancy Tomasheski says:

    I came here just to read the post (and have long been a Dunbar fan), but the giveaway is a bit of extra (I’d say ‘frosting’, but I don’t like frosting ….)!
    I would love a set of DVDs and would put them to good use.

    To comment on the issue of repeated cues, I do use them, if it is clear that a dog hasn’t heard me, for whatever reason – my own failure to recognize that he couldn’t/wouldn’t, unpredictable distraction at an inopportune moment, or whatever. I’ll then get attempt to get the dog’s attention using his name, and once obtained, give the command again. Wait for compliance, then one more command.
    Personally, I have one dog who will sit to ask for something, what I think of as a canine method of saying, “Please?” (And she will sometimes get what she’s asking for and sometimes not, depending on my assessment of the risk – in which way the system – of her devising, btw – benefits me, too)
    Another will only sit with great displeasure (though, usually, on the first command, now).
    It’s client dogs with whom I am more comfortable using repeated commands. To the average person (i.e., one not obessessed with training theory as we are!), repeated commands are going to happen, so I’d rather they be useful!

  43. Cheryl says:

    I love this article! I tell my students that dogs are like children, if you say it over and over they are going to ignore you until they think you REALLY mean it

  44. Kelly Cabral says:

    This is awesome! While I am not a trained and certificated dog trainer, I have read many articles, books etc, and watched many videos to absorb as much as I can to help my dogs be better canine citizens. I have tried to adhere to the ‘one cue’ rule but like most people have found, it can make training among many things confusing for the dog if they don’t have the cue down. I have actually unknowingly incorporated some of the RRC methods in my training and am looking forward to ‘cleaning them up’ for my fur friends!

    Thanks for passing this info along! I’m excited to work it into our daily training!

  45. Dogdaes says:

    Love your recap posts on this seminar. I’m seeing Ian in Cincy, so very excited to go.

    I have always been taught the one cue rule, but I think the RCC makes sense too. In some ways, I think it is the pause that perhaps makes the difference. When we hear owners repeatedly saying the cue, it is over and over with no absolute hesitation. Therefore, it just all becomes gabled language to the dog. But with a pause, just like when we are teaching new cues, it allows the dog to think. It is in a sense giving the dog a choice, but for most, they realize, there are good things that come after doing the behavior.

    Anyway, I’ve also done something similar too with maintains, like if a dog was about to break maintain, I gently reminded the dog the behavior by repeating the cue. I was always taught that that was an instructional reprimand.

  46. Smmba says:

    I am fresh from Ian’s Portland seminar (3/2011) and, of course, started hand-feeding my rescue as soon as I got back home. I was reluctant to do so immediately after I got him because he was significantly underweight. But, I have to say that hand feeding is an incredible way to check for understanding of a verbal cue. (It is also miraculous for changing behavior!) I hand-fed my whip-smart (adolescent) pit bull a year ago after Ian’s Seattle seminar with phenomenal results so I was very excited to try it with my new rescue. Well, my pit bull is getting a little tune-up along the way this time. I have discovered that I have not sufficiently trained certain cues in all situations. My whip-smart pit bull does not really understand sit-from-a-down in the upstairs bathroom. (He does now–and it didn’t take long!)
    My point is that perhaps we have not sufficiently taught the verbal cue (or even the hand signal) for a request and that *could* be why we are needing to repeat the command–because the dog does not completely understand what we are asking him/her to do. I also was taught not to repeat the command *or else* he will not do it until l I have said it x number of times. I never really took to that line of thinking, though I do cringe a little when I see friends repeating, “LEAVEitLEAVEitLEAVEitLEAVEitLEAVEit” until they are well past the “Leave it” item.

    As Jamie put so succinctly, ” I think that a large part of the reason why repeating commands is frowned upon is because so many people repeat the command, and then they GIVE UP because their dog is ignoring them. This teaches dogs that they can ignore us, and that they can listen and obey us only when they feel like it. I believe the key to RRC is that you don’t give up until the dog complies.”

    As I saw yet AGAIN in puppy class tonight, owners simply give UP and this sends the message that ‘it’s no big deal to blow off the command’ (or “request” as the case may be). If we give up, our dogs learn that we are pushovers; if we won’t give up, our dogs learn that we expect only the best from them. It really isn’t their fault if we aren’t being clear, is it? My dogs have taught me many times over when I am being unclear or confusing.
    As Ian puts it, in his own household, most of the time he asks for something of his dogs, he clearly does not expect them to comply. But they know when he DOES. (Enter DogCon.) They know the difference only because he taught them the difference. And I’m guessing he probably had to say it more than once.

    • Great comment! Thank you. Given your experience and Jamie’s I guess we could say: “Don’t blow your dog off!” as in don’t GIVE UP. We talk a lot about our dogs blowing us off. Maybe we’re the ones who taught them how by blowing them off. Just a thought.

  47. Marnie Montgomery says:

    I used to be part of an ensemble skating group which was composed of humans, some of us with particularly bad senses of direction. When our coach would cue “skate right” and somebody would go left, she would say “other right”, and the skater would correct to the desired direction. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing the same with my dog if he doesn’t perform to a cue, for example a failed sit would become “other sit”. I have no idea why, but it generally works like a charm!

    I like the pattern described in the RRC because it seems like a fluid approach to building behavior in varying situations. When the dog doesn’t respond as desired initially, he has the opportunity to practice, and then to get it “right”. We’re definitely going to try this.

    • Being a little dyslexic myself, I am often reminded: “Other right,” or “Other left.” Speaking as a human, I find it a gentle and humorous way to receive a correction.:-)

    • Smmba says:

      Ian tells a great story about learning to Tango … being reminded, “LEFT foot Ian … ” when he messed up. He used to call this an “Instructive Reprimand” but in his new seminars, he is using the term “Specific Redirect” in order to avoid the word “reprimand.”
      We all space out every now and then, and don’t hear certain things even if it might appear we are paying close attention. Maybe our dogs are learning to space out from us too!
      I don’t think anyone is advocating repeating the command as a way of life, but it can be a clue as to what, perhaps, we have not taught completely.

      PS–I just bought all the DVDs. 😉 SO worth it!

  48. Heather says:

    It’s not how I was originally taught either but I find I do repeat cues with my pups. I like the Sirius classes because they seem to encourage a more fluid exchange between human and pup.

  49. Tricia Demarest says:

    I’m intrigued. I think repetition of commands annoys the fellow humans more than it interferes with dog learning. I have no problem with “nagging” my dog in the beginning of training. As I work with him we get more in tune with each other and he responds more quickly to me ( body language, environmental context, hand and voice signals)

  50. Deena Singer says:

    It makes sense to me. There is an energy dynamic involved.

  51. D.D. says:

    3 dogs that need reinforcement and reminders would love mom to have these DVDs!

  52. Nicole Emery says:

    Fascinating stuff. It was just last night I was telling a class of puppy owners why it is so important to only use your cue word once!!!!!!! I will definately be reading up on this a little bit more.

  53. Stacy says:

    This is so positive and reaffirming! I have always allowed and instructed my students to repeat a command after giving the dogs time to respond, but have always felt a little “guilty” about it because it wasn’t the general consensus. Thank you for spreading the word and helping to educate Dog Trainers all over the world! It really allows us to get lure and reward training out to the public and help the dogs that come to us for training.

  54. Pilar says:

    Interesting indeed. I have a 10 month female whippet who puts her skinny butt on the floor at once when food is at stake but who just won’t comply otherwise, even when going out the door is at stake. So I was glad to try something different while she was playing with a toy. To my surprise she sat after about the 15th “sit!”, I wonder if she sat so I would stop pestering her, she didn’t sit when I repeated the sit 2 minutes later but I will keep trying with this method since nothing else seems to work.

    • An important part of RRC is for your dog to comply after one cue. So after the 15th sit (nice counting!) say your dog’s name then “come” or “here” or whatever word you use, and back up a step. When your dog gets up and follows you, say, “(Her name), sit.) Do this up close exercise as many times as it takes for her to sit after one cue. Then release her to play or give her another reward. RRC means–repetitive re-instruction until compliance.

      Also, you might need to back up and start teaching her to sit in different places in the house and yard. RRC really should only be used when the dog is 90% reliable in complying with the cue and is very motivated to comply.

      • Pilar says:

        She does sit 99% with food, 90% with toys anywhere, anytime. But I’m guessing what you mean with 90% reliable compliance is sitting in all situations (although not at the first “sit” request) regardless of reward or not. It still puzzles me why do my dogs sit so eagerly in milliseconds with food, but they don’t otherwise. Obviously they understand what sit means. It seems that they sit not because I say “sit” but because they have learn you sit to get food and the word sit is conditional.

        • One way to phase out food is to ask for more sits before reinforcing with food. Also, are you showing your dog the food before you ask her to sit? If so, that’s a bribe not positive reinforcement. The food reward needs to be a surprise.

  55. Niki Tudge says:

    These methods work, i have used them in the past. I watched Ian Dunbar present this at a seminar a few years ago. The important thing it to train-test-train. Know your goals and track your progress so you know that what you are doing is working and progress is begin made.

  56. Nancy Tucker says:

    Funny. I think I inadvertently do a version of this without thinking. I do prefer to “wait it out” when the dog is just learning the cue, or hasn’t yet perfected it, but when I’m confident the dog *knows* the cue, I do a series of cue repititions until I get the behaviour. Again, it’s not a conscious method, per se… just something I catch myself doing (and hope that no students are watching! lol). I’ll now be paying closer attention to exactly how I’m using the repeated cues… maybe I’ve been doing it correctly all along! :o)

  57. Anne says:

    This is incredibly fascinating! Thank you for sharing and I hope to win the DVD’s!

  58. Lynne Wetherell says:

    I was introduced to your blog by my sister-in-law and am enjoying it immensely! We have three dogs, 2 shelties and my beloved German shepherd/Australian shepherd/determined neighbor dog (who can climb fences). She experienced some trauma while a pup and has always been very fearful around strangers. She sits and trembles while being petted. I am always looking for things that might help her and for positive training methods. She is quite obedient and sometimes seems to understand most everything I ask of her, but there are times…… . I am really enjoying what I’ve read here. Oh, and I’d also really enjoy the DVDs!!

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog. Thank you for your kinds words. If you don’t already know about Debbie Jacobs website and blog at Fearfuldogs.com, I highly recommend it.

  59. Karen says:

    Finally, a theory that makes sense with what I deal with with my dog (wait…wait; leave it….leave it)! Thanks!

  60. This really works! It is so simple, painless and fun for you and your dog!!

  61. Susan Scott says:

    Went right out and did it with both my dogs, my GSD did a great sit from afar, they other one, took awhile but she eventually caught on. Looking forward to winning the DVD’s. I did learn not to repeat and have taught my clients not to repeat commands. Old Dogs do learn new tricks!

  62. I really like this RRC idea! I find its very natural for us humans to want to repeat cues as we do it in normal conversation all the time. Its hard enough for anyone new to dog training to grasp everything and esp difficult to not repeat cues. When the dog will not perform, it can frustrate the people as well as frustrate the dog, which is never good for anybody! Many times this leads dog owners resorting to physical force and or giving into the dog and giving up on the cue. I really love this idea because it allows clients to be human, and with a good explanation and a little practice will lead to great results. I feel flexible “human friendly methods” will ultimately lead to more cross over clients and over all better life’s and relationships between humans and dogs.

  63. Tina says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have used a similar method while working around distractions and have felt as though I “failed” somehow. I reasoned that I don’t always hear/comply immediately with every request lobbed at me, same thing applies to them. Now I can feel more comfortable around people when using this method, as I will refer to this blog when I am questioned!

  64. DebK says:

    I too was indoctrinated in the one command/cue school of training, and when I first began clicker training somewhat stuck with that rule until attending a seminar with Gary Wilkes where I learned about NRMs (non-reward markers) and started using NRMs to sort of reset the clock and allow the opportunity to begin again. I still use a mix of Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning, and RRC is definitely part of the learning process for my dogs now. Thanks for sharing some great articles!

  65. Mary Lynne O'Brien says:

    This was a very interesting article – I have always been a large dog “lover and owner, for many years basically involved with German Shepherds. Recently I adopted a Beagle pup, almost a year of age. This is a wonderful male who as far as I can tell had no training whatsoever. He has been very responsive to an compilation of repeated general commands, I also am using a clicker with the other animals for manners training at feeding times. The cats and dog follow the same commands, and patiently wait for their portion of food to be distributed and are very polite diners. Bill the Beagle has a LARGE personality, very loving and is quite stubborn about refusal on certain commands. After working with Bill using the suggested repetetive commands/gestures and forward approach to reinforce understanding and commitment by the dog, the results were astonishing! Thank you ever so much. I adore this new family member and have found my “Inner Alpha”, strongly challenged by his. This was a big help. Play training was less challenging (fetching a toy/ favorite chew bone) Bill is naturally reluctant to give up his toys, and prefers to induce a tug of war, which is not permitted. He sometimes emits what sounds like a menacing growl, but I know this is just play. I do not want him to use this tactic to “train” his human play partnersthrough vocal intimidation and the growling is expressly prohibited during play. Instead of pulling on his toy so as to continue a toss and fetch, I have refused to take the toy until he volunteers it. I ignore his repeated attempts to “push” the toy at my ankles, legs, etc. and will only resume the “game” when he sits, and holds the toy for me to gently accept from him. I praise him and pet him. He is now rolling on his side, wanting the petting and praising more than the game. I continuously have repeated the word “gentle”, and done so firmly but softly until he calms down during play. As young children are likely to play with him, I do not want to have his playful energies interpreted as ones of aggressiveness. I am beginning to see signs of reliable, consistent behavior during play.
    Staying with me always during walks is a larger challenge, as a beagle, I have learned is a nose with a dog attached to it! His need to sniff is only surpassed by his need to be a Houdini. I do not know if I will be met with success if I install an invisible type fencing with this breed. Any ideas or suggestions? Thanks for all the great information!

    Best to you in Paws and Training…..
    Mary Lynne O’Brien

    • I’m glad you had success with RRC! As for invisible fences, I do not recommend them. Invisible fences rely on shocking the dog to keep him or her in the yard. In addition to possibly damaging your dog, invisible fences can result in all sorts of unintended consequences such as the dog associating the shock with whatever it was that caught his interest–possibly a child, another dog. Thereafter, in the dog’s mind, a child or dog “predicts” pain. This could result in the dog becoming aggressive to children or dogs (or whatever it was that captured his attention enough to induce him to want to leave the yard to investigate it or play with it) in an effort to preempt pain. Why not a real fence?

  66. Linda Pugh says:

    This is very interesting!

    I love Ian Dunbar! I first “met” him 16 years ago when I trained my first lab puppy using his methods and she sailed through obedience.

    I have just tried the experiment with my Abbey who knows the command well. She was 15′ away, but only sat on the second command. I released her, waited a minute and called “sit” again. She came to me from across the room and sat. Hmmm not sure we needed the recall as well!

  67. Mary says:

    I just found your blog because it was posted on Ian Dunbar’s facebook page. I’ve loved listening to his podcasts on Dog Star Daily. I am a dog trainer for a pet supply retailer. I love telling my customers that they just have to insist that their dog does what they’ve asked. They generally look at me cross-eyed like, “that will not work.” So I tell them not to use force, not to be intimidating, just continue to request the behavior and limit access to rewards (i.e. sniffing their neighbors behind). It always works.

  68. Jeffrey Chua says:

    Great to hear it from the expert Dr. Dunbar. I really hate to admit that sometimes my dog don’t usually listen to me the first time you give the cue or command specially if my dog is doing something more interesting. So I have to repeat my command and if my dog won’t listen I try it more harder voice. The training we usually read or heard with a lot of dog trainer is not to repeat your command and let the dogs figure out themselves. But if your going to analyse even the trainer they sometimes repeat the cue. In short our dogs is not perfect so do their people, giving commands more than once for me is not really an issue in training, maybe a mutual respect for both human and dogs are what we both needs.

  69. Cindy Ehlers says:

    “YES”!!!, I tried it, YES, it works. I, like some of you have done variations of this at times when I have the hardest time with my own dog when she is outside and I ask her to come. This is usually after I have tried the waiting game, or get frustrated. I am not consistent because I thought it was wrong, so I tried not to repeat it. I probably didn’t repeat the steps in the right order and maybe even missed a step. I might have done it exactly right once in awhile. as I write this, I just realized that I was perhaps using the right method, the right way, part of the time. Hmm, my dog was giving me the right behavior, (“come”) the right way, part of the time:0)
    Thanks, I am always open to learning more ways to help my clients, and in turn, help myself

  70. Dana says:

    I think the reason this could work is because dogs are extremely social (like us) and they are always attending to the environment to predict which things are desirable to them (like us).

    When deliberate effort is put toward teaching the meaning of verbal cues and food treats are faded quickly from teaching, intermittent food rewards can be augmented with play, touching/massaging/petting, focused attention from us, the opportunity to go outdoors, have a leash put on to go for a walk, also known as “life rewards.” These cues – paired over constant repetition with good things for dogs – create “compliance.”

    When you have that kind of foundation and history of interacting, you can “get away with” repeating cues, use varying tone of voice to convey urgency, and still get the level of training most pet owners need without fallout from being “The Intimidator.” (Loved that! :-)

    I hear Leah, though. You suggest something to the average pet owner involving repeating cues with escalating volume and emotion and they will skip all the steps to get there (training cues, binary feedback and history of interacting using “life rewards” and using Premack) and they’ll say “it didn’t work.” I hate that part. This could bring out the worst in our students.

    I think the “one command rule” came historically from using competition obedience training as a model for pet dog training. In the obedience ring, you cannot give more than one “command” without receiving many points off.

    So, when your trainer or club uses that as a model, you’d give a command once and then enforce it using mild to severe aversives to gain reliability…that is, if you believe the only or best way to get reliability is through the use of aversives.

  71. Migs says:

    If only Dr. Dunbar could have a seminar here in the Philippines or nearby southeast asian countries I will definitely attend!

  72. I have been training and handling dogs for over forty years, and my training methods are a mixture of the pack leader mentality, and my natural way with dogs. I have never hit or yelled at any dog, or other animal for that matter. I only recently stumbled onto Dr. Dunbars training philosophy and I must say, that thing I have been searching for, that would tie everything I knew about dogs and dog training into something that I could relate to other people when I help train their dogs, but was ever so elusive, well I have found it. I am now a devoted student to Dr. Ian Dunbar’s training philosophy. Thank you for helping me find my way.

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