My dog Honey is smart.
I’m sure she’s capable of learning any number of behaviors. If only I could think of what to call them.
It got me thinking: What makes a good dog cue?
5 Rules for Good Dog Cues
Good training cues work for both the dog and her person. I think the best ones follow five rules. Good cues are
Some of the cues I use with Honey are wacky. But they work for me. Because I always remember them.
When I want Honey to stop sniffing her way deeper into a neighbor’s flower bed, I tell her “out of the flowers.” It’s what I want her to do so I remember it.
And when I take off her harness and leash after a walk and need her to move out of my way, I say “run away.” Yes, I always see the Monty Python crew fleeing in my mind. And I always remember it.
My sister is impressed by her friend’s dog. Her friend gives cues like “Get off your bed, go downstairs, find your ball and bring it back up here.”
Did I mention her friend’s dog is a Border Collie?
Short cues are easier for you to remember and easier for your dog to understand.
To my husband, the cue “come” means the following:
- come to me (obviously)
- let’s keep walking
- get out of that flower bed
- stop sniffing that rotted food
- and, return inside the house.
Honey is a compliant dog and she usually figures out what he’s asking her to do. But I’m sure she’d love him to learn consistency.
4) Easy to Distinguish
Dogs don’t understand English. So using rhyming cues like “come,” “hum,” and “bum” is probably a bad idea.
Take pity on your dog and use cues that are easy for him to tell apart.
5) Have a Tone That Communicates
Many people use the cue “heel” when they want their dog to walk by their side.
There’s nothing wrong with that word. And it certainly makes sense in an obedience competition. But I prefer the friendlier “with me.”
I want Honey to hear in my tone that I’d like her to willingly walk by my side. And that she’ll have fun.
In the same way, when she jumps on someone, I say, “that’s rude.” The tone is deeper and goes down when I say it. I suspect that a slow, deep cue helps lower her excitement more than if I shouted in a high-pitched voice, “off!”
When I want Honey to speed up, I speak quickly and with a higher voice (“hurry up,” “let’s go”). When I want her to calm herself, I speak more slowly and with a lower tone (“relaaaaaax” or “go to bed”).
Horse people have known this for years. When they want a horse to stop, they draw out “whoooooa.” They tell a horse to walk faster by making a high clicking sound.
Doesn’t it make sense that dogs might also respond to our tone?
Dog Training By the Rules
I’d like to teach Honey some things.
- settle more quickly after greeting a friend
- to move around my body on cue
- to clean up her toys
Maybe now that I’ve thought about the rules for creating good cues, I’ll be able to find the right one to pair with her training.
There’s no reason Honey should be held back just because I can’t think of a cue.