Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Consistent Cues :)

Look at that - a double C! I should get extra brownie points :). Consistent Cues are an important part of dog training as that is the information your dog needs to understand what you expect of them.

What are cues?

Cues are a type of stimulus. A stimulus can be an action, a signal, or anything that precedes a certain dog behavior. Our cues are classically conditioned (learned) stimuli that we use to communicate with our dogs. These are usually words or physical gestures that were once meaningless to our dogs but that we have now assigned a meaning to.

Verbal or Physical?...or Both?

It doesn't matter which you use - a verbal cue or a hand signal - but in real life (as opposed to a show or trial) I prefer verbal cues. The issue with physical cues is that your dog needs to be facing you (or watching you) in order to perform your request, which may become an issue in certain situations. But from the dog's point of view hand signals are easier to learn. They are already masters of body language and learning your gestures is second nature to them :).

Something to keep in mind when using physical cues - you want to avoid over-cueing your dog. For example, if you are making an upward-sweeping motion with your hand to cue your dog to sit you need to make sure it is isolated from any other body movements. Many people also bend over, or nod their head when doing this hand signal without realizing it. If you do all those movements for a few repetitions, then the whole sequence (hand motion, bending over, and nodding head) becomes the cue, not just the hand motion. The issue with this is that if you change the appearance of the cue (say you stop bending over) the dog might not respond to the cue. So if you use hand motions, please make sure you are consistent and avoid any unnecessary body movements. Videoing your training sessions will be a giant help with making sure you know what you are doing with your body :).

Another great tip - make a list of all the cues you are training your dog on so you have it for reference, especially if you have more than one family member asking your dog to do something. That way your dog is getting the same message (cue) from everyone. That consistency will help facilitate the learning process much faster (and help avoid spouse frustration!).


You shouldn't name your behavior (give it a verbal cue) until AFTER your dog is fluently offering it. It can be very difficult to put this in practice because we, as humans, are so verbally orientated and it's hard for us to remember that our words don't have any mean to our dogs. They won't be debating with us the definition of a word, they will simply associate it to the behavior we have trained them for. So to facilitate learning (and curb frustration!) make sure they have a complete understanding of the behavior you are training before you put a verbal cue on it.

Here is a great tutorial on how to add a verbal cue by one of my favorite YouTube channels: Kikopup

Do you use verbal cues or hand signals? Which do you find your dog more fluent in?


  1. Will this work with cats? lol Great tips, Erin.

  2. Never tried this, because I've only had cats in my life.

  3. I groaned and almost couldn't read this post as soon as I saw the title, Erin. I am the worst consistent cuer ever. My poor pets. I have been in a ton of workshops were everyone gets out their cue word notebooks and I scribble in my notes "make a cue word list" then never do. And I bend over. And I get excited about teaching a behavior and put the cur word to it too soon... I should memorize this post! Thank you.

    And for these cat folks- cats love to be trained! Most of mine have responded better to learning verbal cues but they have enjoyed physical cue tricks and behaviors too!

  4. I have no pets but it's interesting to read about teaching cues to animals.

  5. It's funny...I started out trying to only use verbal cues with my dogs, but inadvertently, I've trained them with physical cues as well. It's funny how I just naturally fell into physical cues...such as tapping my leg when I want my dogs to heal.