Nag Nag Nag (It’s a Dog’s Life!)

I went to a Golden Retriever some years ago. They had only picked up the two-year old a few hours previously.

The man haGoldieHarveyd chosen Lenny (not his real name) because he had been ‘trained’. Being able to command the dog was, apart from wanting a retriever breed, the one most important thing to the man when chosing his rescue dog.

The old-school gentleman believed in ‘controlling’ an ‘obedient’ dog.

He told the poor, patient dog who had only just arrived, to go to his bed time and again during my visit. Whenever Lenny came over to him, the man commanded him to sit before he would touch him. Then to lie down.  The dog got up and was ordered to his bed again.

This is extreme, but we humans do like nagging our dogs! Whether or not the dog has been trained to ‘obey commands’ or ‘respond to cues’ depends upon the method of training, but some people can’t drop it once the word has been learnt. They seem unable to resist constantly directing their dog.

I personally am not keen on the words ‘obedience’ and ‘commands’ in training. We would be unlikely to use them when talking about teaching a child, would we.

Typically, a dog may have been taught to sit before crossing the road. Every time her person reaches the road, month after month, he says ‘Sit!’, or “Sit Sit Sit” until the dog sits.  Isn’t this nagging? Surely she’s been taught this after a couple of weeks and no longer needs to be told? Why not just wait and let her work it out. The dog will feel in control of herself and the person will feel chuffed.

The teenager who has finished his TV dinner and who is every time told ‘put your plate in the dishwasher’ even before he’s finished chewing would probably have a tantrum – particularly as he would have done it anyway if left to get on with it. It could well have the opposite effect – inviting rebellion!

Aren’t most dogs long-suffering!

From a safety point of view as well as teaching the dog self-control, it can be very important for a dog to learn tricks and actions from cues or requests – like Sit, Down, Stay, Settle and so on – and if taught using modern, positive methods, enjoyable also. Once learnt though, it must be a lot better for our mutual bonding for the dog to be allowed to work out for himself what we want, to get on the same wavelength – with no more than a gentle prompt, maybe a subtle hand signal or a look – and then some sort of acknowledgement for the desired response.

I’m sure the dog that works out for himself what works and what doesn’t feels a sense of doggy achievement when a task is completed and we are pleased.

If we say Sit’ and the dog gets nothing for sitting, if we say ‘Come’ and nothing follows or ‘Down’ or ‘Wait’ and then nothing worthwhile to the dog happens,  isn’t this ‘crying wolf’? If I were a dog I would become deaf or revolt!

I went to a dog the other day who was being very well-trained by an extremely conscientious owner. She has been surprised at just how much more willing and biddable he is when she leaves him to work things out for himself – things she has already taught him over and over. Here is the story.

For more stories of the many dogs I have worked with, go to


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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