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The Parental Pause

By Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA


Puppy with food

Give the dog a second or two to respond.

A lot of my clients are also parents. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that parents repeat themselves a lot, for obvious reasons. Sometimes, children don’t listen to them even if they know what the parent wants. So the parent repeats themselves until their child does what they ask. When parents do the same thing with their dogs and don’t get a response, they assume that their dog is being stubborn.

I often hear dog owners tell me that their dog is stubborn. When I hear that, I wonder if the dog is really stubborn, or if they are just waiting for a different cue, like their human companion reaching into their pocket for a treat. If the dog hears “Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit” and then sees their human companion reach into their pocket, is the cue “sit” or reaching into their pocket?

The dog is probably waiting for the treat. So one of the tips that I tell my clients is to give the dog a second or two to respond. I call it the three second pause. This works best if the person and dog are in an area where the dog can’t disengage from the owner and walk away.

Make sure that the behavior you are working on is something that the dog knows first. The point of this exercise is to get a faster response from the dog the first time you ask. Say your cue, if the dog doesn’t respond, count to three, say “No,”-or whatever negative marker you are using and then repeat.

You want your dog to understand that their response isn’t the one you wanted. Try not to make your “No,”- or your negative marker a scary or aversive one. It just means that they won’t get a treat for that. A lot of trainers call this a “No Reward Marker.”

When your dog finally does the behavior you have asked for, treat and praise. Keep telling your pup “good” while they are doing the behavior you asked for to encourage them to continue. This will make the behavior that much stronger.

Using this process is kind of like your dog having an “Aha!” moment. Letting your dog think things through on their own is a great way to make sure that they are associating the word to the behavior and not another cue, like reaching for a treat.


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