The Four Most Fundamental Cues to Help Your Dog Become an A+ Pup

The Four Most Fundamental Cues to Help Your Dog Become an A+ Pup - Photo 1 - Doghaus Blog

Now that September is almost over and the back to school craze is behind us, it’s time to test what we’ve learned! Regardless of whether you have a puppy or an older dog, or even a dog who just likes lounging on the couch, studying hard and practicing your cues is a sure way to set them up for success!

In collaboration with Zoe from Zen Zoomies, we asked ourselves what were the most important cues to teach our dogs, from kindergarten to university and beyond. We looked at cues that are versatile and essential in building trust, communication, and, most of all, fun!

Here are our top picks to help your pup go from simply knowing “sit” to being the teacher’s pet.

1. Touch

This one may be surprising to some, but it’s one of the most often used tools in our school bag. In “touch,” a dog targets something (an object, your hand, etc.) with their body (their nose, front paw, back paw, etc.). It sounds simple enough, but it’s fundamental in creating and progressing countless other cues and even behaviours. Most importantly, it’s a go-to cue for asking a dog’s trust in tricky situations.

Zoe says, 

“This is one of my favourite cues, as there are 101 uses for it! You can use the touch to get your dog to move around without physically pushing them (off or on the couch, into the car, etc). ‘Touch’, or ‘target,’ can also be used as an alternative to lures to teach your dogs other tricks like sit, leg weaves, climbing onto objects, and more. Hand touches are useful on walks, as they are an easy trick that can help your dog stay focused on you while distractions pass by. A sustained target can be used to help your vet during check-ups, too!”

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A sustained “touch” can be used for teaching behaviours and other cues, including muzzle training!

Homework: Try building your dog’s focus by using “touch” in various situations. Remember, teach a new cue slowly, adding the four D’s of training one at a time: Duration, Distance, Distraction, and Diversity. 

2. Recall

Potentially the most fundamental cue of them all, a good recall, or “come,” is not only crucial in emergency situations, but an excellent way to build trust with your dog. A reliable recall means more freedom, and more freedom leads to a happier, healthier dog!

Zoe says:

“Although dogs cannot be off leash in Montreal, there are tons of instances where your dog might be loose and need to be called back: if your leash breaks or you accidentally let go of it, if you spot a dangerous situation at an off-leash park, or if you travel and go hiking in an off-leash area but need to call them back. Having a solid recall can potentially save your dog’s life, or can simply make you feel confident that your dog will return if you ever choose to let them run like a wild dog.” 

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All dogs should have a grasp of the recall cue by the time they hit puppy classes, but an advanced “come” requires lots of work. Practice makes perfect!

Homework: Have your dog’s decision to come when called be the best decision he makes that day! Always reward a recall, and never punish your dog’s choice to come to you – even if it isn’t perfect! 

3. Leave It

This may seem obvious to some, but we couldn’t leave it off the list! At its core, this cue is essential for building communication between you and your dog. It offers invaluable information about what you want from your dog. And the more information you can provide to your dog, the more likely they are to continue that behaviour in the future. 

Zoe says:

“A good ‘leave it’ is an essential tool for developing a polite pooch with good impulse control. It can be used in many situations, including: not touching food, leaving another pet alone, to stop chewing inappropriate objects, preventing your dog from marking something he shouldn’t, and so much more. It is a great alternative to the word ‘no,’ as you are telling what to do instead of what not to do.”

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“Leave it” is a practice in patience, but can develop into safe behaviours!

Homework: After you cue “leave it,” offer your dog a more appropriate object or activity to return to. Set them up for success!

4. Stay

“Stay” is often an underrated skill for any dog to possess. From teaching calmness to environment and body awareness, “stay” can help a dog focus on you and practice their listening skills amidst distractions. Plus, it’s necessary for the modern social media-savvy dog to know how to pose long enough for a picture!

Zoe says:

“More than being a convenient way to have your dog stay still while you do something (like prepare their food), ‘stay,’ is a great way to practice impulse control with your dog. Not moving or waiting their turn while watching the hussle and bussle of their owners can be very difficult for some dogs, but practicing it can be a great first step to getting a polite, patient pooch. It’s also necessary if you ever want to practice off-leash activities, including dog sports.”

The Four Most Fundamental Cues to Help Your Dog Become an A+ Pup - Photo 5 - Doghaus Blog
Although “stay” is a great cue for any dog, at higher levels it can be used to direct precise movements - even at a distance!

Homework: “Stay” can be a tough cue to teach, especially for young or excitable dogs. Build the cue gradually, even if only for a few seconds at a time, and always reward your successes!

BONUS: Party Trick!

The party trick can take on many shapes, but it fills an important role in a dog’s repertoire: it’s something fun! Break it out and impress your class, or show off your dog’s moves at your next visit to Döghaus! Some cues that work well, depending on your dog’s personality, are “play dead,” “spin,” “between the legs,” or (for those over-achievers) “nod.” While these tricks may seem unnecessary, the time spent teaching them creates invaluable bonding and communication experiences with your pup. They’re fundamental!

Zoe says:

“My favorite party trick is teaching my dog the words for different objects. It’s a very simple game, and once your dog knows 2-3 words (like “ball” or “bear”) you can raise the difficulty by asking them to bring back the object you asked for from a pile. Another way to increase the difficulty (and impress your guests) is by teaching them letters to the alphabet, differentiating between shapes, colours, and sizes, and even how to count!

Exercising your dogs physically is very important, but it’s also crucial to have them ‘flex’ their brains. Training uses a lot of mental energy, and games like this will not only tire them out mentally, but will generally leave them more satisfied and content than simply playing fetch for an hour. Activities that accomplish that are often called enrichment, because they try to enhance the quality of your pet’s psychological and physiological well-being through fun activities.”

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Homework: What’s your favourite party trick? Come up with a fun way to spend time and bond with your dog – even if it’s as ridiculous as doing handstands! And always keep an eye on your dog to make sure that they’re having fun with their trick.

Thanks again to Zoe from Zen Zoomies for her expertise in all things training and behaviour!

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