"My dog KNOWS this! He's just being stubborn and choosing to ignore me."
Here are 3 tips for teaching a verbal cue that your dog will reliably respond to:
1. Behavior first, cue second.
When training a new skill or behavior, many people start saying the cue right away during the learning process. Their dog doesn't yet understand the behavior that they're learning, but they are already hearing the verbal cue repeated over and over.
When you attach the cue so early, you risk:
Saying the cue, your dog doing something else, and associating that “wrong” behavior with the cue.
Your dog connecting the cue to treats instead of the desired behavior to treats.
Your dog beginning to tune out the cue, because they've heard it so many times without understanding it's meaning.
So, how do we do it right? Your dog first needs to learn that the behavior itself is rewarding. Say no cues at all to begin with!
You can use body language to communicate at first (an open palm to communicate “stay” for example), but begin phasing out body language at the same time you are introducing the verbal cue. Dogs are more responsive to body language than verbal cues, so if you use it for too long, your dog will always require the same body language in order to perform the behavior.
Once your dog has understood the desired behavior, it's time to introduce the verbal cue. Say the cue while your dog is performing the behavior (not before -- this way you are sure that the cue is paired with the right behavior). Gradually, you can say the cue earlier and earlier until finally you can say it before your dog begins the behavior.
2. Generalize the cue into new contexts
Just because your dog can respond reliably to the cue inside your home, does not mean they will automatically know what the cue means in a new environment or situation.
You need to help them learn the cue in each new context. Once your dog is responding reliably to the cue in a calm environment, try it out in a variety gradually more challenging situations.
In addition to new environments, you will also need to consider subtle elements like your own body language and position, location in relation to your dog, and more. If you want your dog to respond to a "go to bed" cue when you are sitting on the couch, you will need to practice it when you are sitting on the couch -- not just when you are standing next to their bed!
When practicing in a new or challenging environment, you may need to take a few steps back in your training in order to help your dog understand. You should also use more motivating rewards when training in more challenging situations.
3. Don't nag!
If your dog does not perform the behavior when you say the cue, don't shout or repeat the cue. Either you have not properly trained around these particular distractions, the cue is not connected to the behavior well enough, or the reinforcer isn't motivating enough.
Your dog isn't being "stubborn" or deliberately ignoring you. Think about what you can change in order to help them learn how to perform the behavior in that particular situation in the future.
I'm Kelly, pro dog trainer and Everydog founder. I'm passionate about sharing the power of reward-based dog training. So glad you're here!