Mind Your P’s & Q’s! When and How to Use Verbal Commands

By AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on using verbal cues/commands correctly. You may be surprised to learn that the verbal cue is not important when you first start training a new behavior.

A common mistake seen among puppy owners is adding cue words too early. If you name a behavior before your dog is doing it correctly, you're inadvertently naming the wrong thing.

Imagine you're luring your dog into the down position, you repeat the word 'down, down, down' as your dog paws at your hand, sits, bows, and does everything other than lying down. What action are you pairing with the word 'down'? Probably not the one you thought you were!

A good rule of thumb when training is the 80 percent rule. When your dog can perform a behavior 80 percent of the time on a hand signal and/or with a food lure, you can start to name the action.

Try putting 10 treats in your hand; every time your dog IS able to perform the action you're asking through luring or hand signals, feed him a treat. Every time your dog is NOT able to perform the action, set the treat aside.

If you have two or fewer treats set aside at the end of your session, you are ready to add the cue! If you have three or more, plan on a few more practice sessions before naming the behavior so you can be sure you're really naming the action you want.

The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by experienced dog trainers: www.akcgooddoghelpline.org

The Five Commands Every Dog Should Know

Do you want a well behaved dog but don't know where to begin? The Basic five commands e-book is a great place to start and will give your dog a strong foundation for future training.