Mind Your P’s & Q’s! Part 3 - When & How to Use Verbal Commands

By AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long

This is the final installment of a three-part series on using verbal cues/commands correctly. In this segment, we discuss choosing a verbal cue that does not confuse your dog.

In this last installment on verbal cues, we will discuss actions that humans use the same word for and make perfect sense to us, but that can be very confusing to dogs.

Here are a few examples of words that we often use interchangeably for several different actions.

Down - Many dog owners use the word 'down' to mean 'lie down,' but also tell their dog to 'get down' when their dog is jumping on them or their furniture. Whatever word you use to mean 'lie down' should only be used when you want your dog to lie down. If you want to teach your dog a cue to mean stop jumping or get off furniture, try 'off' or 'floor' so as to make the behaviors more clear for your dog.

Heel - The word 'heel' means different things to different people, but most dog owners use 'heel' to tell their dog to walk beside them without pulling. Take care not to use the same word if you also want to teach your dog a more formal type of heel work where they maintain almost constant eye contact and sit automatically when you stop, similar to what you would see in the competition obedience ring. Many dog trainers use 'heel' to mean formal attention heeling and 'with me' to mean loose leash walking. Additionally, yet another word should be used to indicate sitting in heel position to your dog - common cues for this are 'get in' or 'close'.

Drop It/Leave It - 'Drop it' and 'leave it' are thought to mean the same thing by many people. However, there is a distinction between these words. 'Drop it' tells the dog that he should spit out whatever is currently in his mouth. 'Leave it' tells the dog to not pick up or in some cases even investigate something that he may find interesting. An easy way to remember this is that you won't need to use the 'drop it' cue if your dog listened to the 'leave it' cue. However 'drop it' is still important to teach for the times when you don't tell your dog 'leave it' in time, or if you are playing with your dog and want him to drop his toy.

Just make sure in your dog’s training program to use separate distinct verbal cues for each different behavior so your dog understands what you are communicating!

Happy training!

The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone training services 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.