By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Amanda Ott
We’ve talked about tricks, easy training tips, and teaching your dog sports, but today we’re going to discuss cues that are essential to your dog’s safety and well being. Understanding and quickly answering these cues can sometimes be the difference between life or death for your dog.
Knowing The Difference Between Cues And Commands
While some people may act as if “cue” and “command” are synonymous terms, there’s a big difference. If you view yourself as giving commands to your dog, you’re setting yourself up for an adversarial relationship – similar to the relationship fostered by the debunked dominance theory.
Instead, think of these as cues or signals. You’re asking that your dog perform a certain action or behavior. They listen to you because of the trust and mutual respect you’ve built over the course of their training. That’s why we’ll always recommend taking training classes with your dog (no matter their age) to strengthen that key bond.
#1 Attention Work
The basic building block of all dog training is attention work. You won’t get your dog to follow a single cue until they’re paying attention to you. Luckily, dogs typically find us humans pretty interesting. What you really need to sharpen is their ability to focus on you alone.
The world is chock full of doggie-distractions: wonderful smells, new canine pals, and big rumbly things speeding down the street. Owners can’t hope to compete with this fascinating world using charisma alone. You must train your dog with positive reinforcement to prioritize you above all.
#2 Name Recognition
Your dog’s name is also a cue. When you call out “Buddy!” You’re actually asking something of them, which is just to pay attention to you! While knowing your own name may seem a little basic to us, some dogs can struggle with it, especially adopted and rescued dogs who may have had a different name in the past.
If you’re adopting a dog or puppy, we highly recommend checking out our article about what names dogs respond to best before bestowing a name on your pup. However, if you’re adopting a dog who already has a name, it’s best to keep that name or only slightly change it.
Practice calling out your dog’s name and rewarding them when they respond. At first, reward any recognition with treats or praise to reinforce their name as a positive experience. Afterwards, start rewarding faster recognition and treat other responses as normal.
#3 Recall / Coming When Called
We’ve discussed how to train a strong recall before, and for good reason. Having a well reinforced recall can save your dog’s life during emergencies, such as:
- Running into traffic
- Approaching a snake
- Walking near a cliff
- Fighting with dogs
If your recall cue is more highly prioritized by your dog than other distracting or interesting stimuli, you can save them from life threatening situations. To make recognizing recall easier for your dog, use short words like:
Be careful not to associate the recall with unpleasant experiences like giving medication. Every time your dog bounds over to answer you, shower them with praise or appropriate treats before you administer uncomfortable treatments or unwanted baths.
#4 Restraint And Impulse Control
While restraint and impulse control aren’t exactly cues, they are implemented with cues. You’re probably quite familiar with many of the most common examples, like:
These cues all ask your dog to control themselves or resist giving in to otherwise powerful urges. Technically, all cues are a form of restraint or impulse control, but these four cues are the foundation for building a strong bond with your dog.
If your dog has a problem jumping on people in excitement, or running out the door, you can train a “wait” or “stop” cue to keep them in place. Just like every other cue, you teach this through repeated reinforcement. Show your dog that waiting is more valuable than jumping or running.
#5 The Drop It, Or Leave It Cues
Drop it, or leave it both fall into the “life-saving” category of cue. For instance, if your dog picks up a bottle of pills, or is about to gnaw on toxic food, you can quickly order them to drop the item before they ingest anything.
These cues can also keep your family safe. Many dogs may growl or bite if you try to take something away from them. With the drop it cue, you can tell them to leave the item alone and safely retrieve it afterwards. As a side-note, be careful with yanking things from your dog’s mouth. You may unintentionally cause resource guarding.
When training these cues, it’s imperative that you’re working with a professional or only using positive methods. Aversive techniques will make your dog anxious, distrustful, and afraid of you – the exact opposite of what you want.
Sitting Dogs by Colby Stopa
Fetching Dog by Maja Dumat
Jumping for Treats by Grace Courbis