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Anything Can Be A Cue

In dog training, everyone is familiar with one of the most basic obedience commands, “Sit.” So, to begin to explain what a cue is, we can start with “Sit.” Simply, a cue is anything in the world that causes your dog to do something. So, once you’ve taught your dog to sit, the actual “Sit” command is the CUE to sit.

When I teach most dogs to heel, I like to have them sit automatically whenever I stop walking (auto-sit). In this instance, the act of the handler stopping is the CUE for the dog to sit.

Why is this important?

Well, I want you to think about something, anything, that your dog has a negative reaction to, or causes your dog to act in an undesirable manner. Let’s use guests coming over as an example.

Most of my clients come to me with the complaint that when guests come to their home their dogs do any number of undesirable behaviors, such as barking, jumping, growling, and even biting.

Usually, it all starts with the doorbell, my dogs are guilty of it also. Even when they hear the doorbell in a movie or on T.V. they immediately break into a roar of barking or howling until I give them a cue to do something else.

That something else, can be the solution to all of these behaviors.

In the example of people coming over, the doorbell has become the cue to begin this ritual of barking, and jumping, and all of the other annoying dog things that they do. A dog that has never heard a doorbell before in their life would not react this way, however, our dogs have been conditioned to know that the sound of the doorbell means new friends or scary strangers are going to be entering the home.

So, how can we address this very common problem? We use the doorbell to cue a different behavior. I prefer to use the doorbell to mean “Go To Place.” The place bed is a tool we use to teach a really solid boundary stay, and I also use it as my dogs’ safe space. The place bed is a place to go and just be calm.

When teaching a new cue for a familiar behavior, always remember “New Cue” followed by “Old Cue.” In this example of the doorbell and “Go To Place,” the old cue would be the “Place” command, or “Go to Place.” The new cue will be the doorbell.

So, to teach your dog that the doorbell means “Go To Place,” you simple need to have someone ring the doorbell, and you then tell your dog to “Go To Place.” When they go to the place bed, reward them, and release them. Repeat this process until so many times that the dog is basically beating you to the punch and going to place as soon as he/she hears the door bell.

Your dog should be proficient with the “Place” command before beginning this exercise, and it doesn’t hurt to review “Place” and “Place-Stay” before beginning this process. If your dog doesn’t go to place on the first few repetitions of using the doorbell as the new cue, and you know your dog knows the “Place” command, I recommend telling your dog “No” followed by a correction and following through with leading your dog to the place bed.

I know we’ve only talked about a few cues, but you can use this simple process to address even serious behavior problems. If your dog becomes aggressive or out of control when passing another dog while you are out on walks, you can use this method (preferably in a controlled environment) to teach your dog that when they see another dog, it is a cue for them to turn to their handler.

The process to do this is to present the stimulus, (the other dog) you may want to have a friend with their dog somewhere nearby for this part. The moment you see you dog begin to fixate or become focused on the dog and you know they are about the react to the other dog, you can recall your dog to you and give them some good rewards when they come to you.

Again, just repeating this process multiple, multiple times and eventually, when your dog sees another dog, he will immediately turn to you.

This type of training can be difficult without the use of a partner or friend with another dog, because you can’t plan to run into other dogs while you are out walking. If your dog reacts to other dogs, you can use this technique outside of your local dog park.

I used this technique with my dog, and generally in most cases I am very very observant of my dog because he is extremely people aggressive. I used this technique in literally every single situation where we would encounter strangers. So, I never really new whether it was working because I would always recall him at the earliest sign that he was thinking about reacting.

Then one day, I we were training in my garage, off leash, when my roommate suddenly walked in. My dog is still a little weary of our roommate, but generally just avoids him. But we had never been in this situation where we were in the garage and my roommate kinda burst in very suddenly and caught my dog by surprise.

Immediately my dog came directly to me, into the heel position, and did start to bark at my roommate, but did not move from the heel position! I reminded him of his sit command, and he stopped barking, and I was absolutely amazed.

These techniques may seem trivial, but they can prevent dangerous situations from become tragic.

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