A new feature to First Choice Canine’s blog is Common Questions, where we’ll answer some of the questions clients ask about how to train a dog off-leash, how to make your dog behave better and more.

Common Question: Why aren’t you giving commands in English?

We do give commands in English, just not all of them. When we train a dog for on & off-leash obedience, we actually train using two sets of commands: formal and informal.

Informal commands, like “sit,” “lie down,” and “come on” are meant to be used casually in everyday life. And because dogs are living, breathing animals and not machines, there are going to be times that you’re going to need to repeat the command. Sometimes the dog might not hear the command properly, or the situation is so distracting that it takes the dog a moment longer to respond than usual. This is normal from time to time; even computers can’t immediately do what you asked them to every single time.

Now it would be nice if we were always able to follow through with the proper praise and corrections for behavior, but sometimes your dog is too far away and you can’t. The times when you may want to repeat the command but can’t really follow through with the training principles are the times when you’ll want to use an informal command (we’ll explain why later).

Another fact of life is that people say things like “sit” and “down” in regular conversation. Dogs don’t actually understand words of course, they’re responding to certain tones in whatever way they were trained to. But if someone is using these same tones in their regular speech, the dog can become confused. And if you or someone else had tried to train the dog with these words in the past, he or she might have been conditioned to think it’s okay not to listen sometimes.

When we’re using informal on & off-leash obedience training commands in English, we’re accepting that a) you won’t always be able to reinforce the command with praise or corrections and b) the dog might hear one of their commands when it wasn’t really meant to be a command. Just like a farmer might keep an old truck for his daily chores and a new Volvo for trips to church, we use informal commands as our door-dinged “daily drivers” and formal commands as exotic imports with the best performance.

See, the only time we have our clients give the formal commands we trained their dogs with is when they have a way to correct the dog if he or she does not follow along. This means the dog’s experience is that 100% of the time the command is given, they behave in a certain way or there is a consequence. If you don’t have any way to correct your dog in the moment, it’s time to use an informal command. By having separate sets of commands, one for daily use and one that we never compromise on, we can be sure that in an emergency situation your dog will listen and follow through quickly the first time.

Side note: at First Choice Canine, we know how to train a dog in on & off-leash obedience in any language you’d like. Our training system is such that changing your dog’s training over to a new set of words is no major obstacle.