Chris PulsOne of the most common questions I get when I’m teaching is, “should I be telling them to DO something?”

While there are many opinions on when to begin using a cue, I believe there’s little point in saying a word you want your dog to listen to instantaneously before they’ve learned how to do the behavior — so I teach the behavior first, then teach the dog that the time they can get rewarded for that behavior is when I say that specific word.

This can be a hard concept for students to understand so I usually explain it two ways.

  1. We talk a lot. This means it can be hard for our dogs to understand when we’re talking to them vs. when we’re talking to each other.Add to that how often we tend to talk to our dogs even when we’re not actually asking them to do something, and it’s pretty easy to understand why sometimes it’s hard for our dogs to know that we’re actually asking them to do something.
  2. When we add a cue we “freeze” the behavior. If we start saying down when our dog doesn’t know what it means yet — say they’re only putting their elbows down — and we reward for that, then later we want our dog to go all the way down when we say “down,” how is the dog supposed to understand that our criteria has changed?By using the cue after we’re consistently getting the behavior, we can avoid confusing our dogs.

I like to say when you’re pretty sure your dog is going to do the behavior (you’re luring them into a down and they’re going down more often than not) then they can start using the word.

Photo Credit: Chris Puls