4 Cues Your Dog Should Know
Updated: Jul 24
Training your dog is often one of the most exciting things to do with them. You think of all the cool tricks you want them to do, you're impressed by videos on social media and think "I want my dog to do that!" However, the most important ones to teach are rather boring, but can be lifesaving. There's so much information out there as to how to train your dog and what they should be "allowed" to do, how they "should" behave, etc. that it's easy to get lost in it all. Training and learning should feel like a game for you and your dog, not stressful, not overwhelming and it should be rewarding. It should be done in short sessions and finish on a positive note. Training should look boring and uneventful. All training begins in the home, without distractions, then moved to outside on leash, then to off leash. Once taught, all cues need to be practiced and reinforced regularly. Over the years I've met many pet parents and their dogs who do fun things like having their dog zig zag between their legs, play dead, etc, but their dog hasn't been taught some basics to help them navigate the human world. The following are the most important cues your dog should know to make the our world safer for them.
There are 2 types of recall; one is the emergency recall and the other is a non-urgent recall. The emergency recall is one you won't often use and will practice the most. It's the one you use if there's a danger or risk to your dog or someone else, when you need your dog to come to you immediately. The emergency recall should ALWAYS be rewarded and will require a very high value reward like cheese, hot dog sausages, etc. It has to be more interesting and more valuable to your dog than a squirrel or a ball! For the vocabulary, you don't want to use a word your dog will hear often while you talk to others. It can be sounds, a word in
a different language, whatever. Some of my dogs' emergency recalls are "zoom zoom", "bingo", "patate", etc. The non-urgent recall is one you use for situations like wanting your dog to come to you at the park, or during a walk when they're fixated on something. While with the emergency recall you want your dog to respond quickly, to run to you, the non-urgent recall, you don't expect an immediate response. Your dog can take a couple seconds before turning to you or walk towards you instead of running. I don't recommend using the word "come" because we use that often already, like when we want our dog to cuddle with us on the couch or in bed, but it can be a variant. I use "here" or "over here" with Boss.
Dogs are scavengers. It's normal for them to want to pick things up off the ground to eat. Teaching a leave it can save you a lot of money and spare your dog emergency visits to the vet for eating something dangerous or sketchy. Using positive reinforcement, you're basically teaching "don't touch! Have this instead!" and giving them a treat. The reward value may vary depending on what you're asking your dog to not touch.
Sometimes your dog is faster than you or sees things before you do, grabs it and you need them to let it go. A drop can be the difference between trying to get your dogs mouth open and having to take out whatever gross thing they grabbed, and having them spit it out on their own. For this cue, you're basically exchanging what they have for a higher value goodie.
This cue has your dog touch their nose to the palm of your hand. What's great about this cue is the flexibility, you can move your hand in any direction and ask you dog to "touch". You can even do a prolonged touch, where your dog keeps their nose to your hand, as you move your hand away from what you want them to ignore. This is perfect for moving your dogs' attention away from something, be it food on the ground, another dog, a squirrel, anything!
Other Cues to Teach
While dogs have been domesticated, we sometimes forget they are still animals. They behave like animals, communicate like animals, and have animal needs. They are animals being forced to live and navigate the human world. So they'll bark when we don't want them to, they'll pull on the leash to get to something that piqued their interest, they'll try to eat stuff on the ground, etc. They are not "wrong" or "bad" for doing this, they are behaving exactly as they should; they are behaving like dogs. If we don't want them to do something, that means we have to show them what we'd rather they do instead. There are 2 cues that can really help you with undesired behaviours.
Teaching your dog to go to their bed, mat, or crate can help when visitors knock at the door, or when people come inside the home. This is especially helpful for dogs who are stressed by visitors, giving them a space, away from the stressor, to go to helps make them feel more comfortable.
Heel or Focus
While you don't want your dog walking in a heel for more than a few minutes, there are times you need your dog to focus on you and not their surroundings as you walk by a potential trigger, garbage on the ground, etc. Whatever the reason, teaching your dog to keep their eyes on you during their walk is very helpful and can avoid unpleasant situations.
To learn how to teach your dog these cues, contact a certified trainer. You can visit our training section to view the trainers we work with and recommend. Tag us in your training videos on social media so we can cheer you on!
Amelie Koury is the owner and operator of Bon Chien Good Dog. She works as a dog walker and pet sitter and manages the Bon Chien Good Dog website and blog. She is responsible for bringing in guest bloggers and contributors to share their knowledge and expertise with readers. A self proclaimed "dog nerd" and "behaviour geek", she regularly is taking courses and attending workshops and seminars to further her knowledge and improve her work and relationship with the animals she works with. She is a member of the IAABC..
Amelie lives in Montreal, Quebec with her dog Boss.