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Communication with our pets is important whether we speak to them directly or they read our body language. Training methods using harsh, bossy commands will likely produce different results from using cues said in a jolly voice which will come with rewards.

A command does not consider your dog’s emotional state or their understanding of the training. By asking for a behavior with a cue rather than a command, we are allowing your dog to be a participant in the learning. This minimizes frustration, fear, and aggression. A dog taught with cues may learn faster and enjoy the learning process. 

A command is an order which must be done and carries an implied threat of a consequence or may create a fear of punishment for not completing the task. You might repeat the command, not allow him to refuse, and then push his hips down when teaching sit. Some reasons to consider why your dog might not sit:

  • Their hips hurt.
  • There are many distractions around.
  • The ground was hot, rough, or slippery.
  • They feel unsafe or afraid in the current environment.
  • They do not understand what you are asking.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Calder, DVM, DACVB

Ordering or forcing your dog into a sit will increase their fear and make them less likely to perform the behavior when commanded the next time. They may show avoidance or stress behaviors like looking or walking away, licking their lips, or yawning. They may shut down and avoid interacting with you. 

A cue supplies an opportunity to earn a reward. A cue may be a word, scent, sound, gesture, or touch and gives an identification to the behavior. First, the desired behavior must be taught before introducing the cue. This makes sure your dog understands what behavior is expected. Use a marker and reward to communicate to your dog that they have done what you asked and chosen the correct behavior. The cue then identifies when the behavior should reoccur. The reward will motivate your dog to repeat the cued behavior. For example, when teaching your dog to sit initially, a lure may be used to guide your dog into position by moving the treat above and over their head. Their hind end should naturally drop to the floor. Make sure to mark and reward when it does. As an alternative, capturing can be used to teach the same behavior by marking and rewarding your dog when they choose to sit on their own. When this behavior is offered at least 75% of the time, it is time to introduce the cue.

Although a sit might look the same whether cued or commanded, a cued dog is a willing participant and should not appear stressed or afraid. Most importantly, you are addressing their emotional and physical needs while supporting a training relationship built on communication and trust.