In the ever-evolving journey of understanding our canine companions better, communication is the key. We often think of dog training as a time-consuming and daunting task, filled with countless commands and signals to remember. But what if we told you it’s much simpler than you imagine.
I’ve done it, honestly, I have half a dozen cues that achieve the same thing – now, do remember that I wasn’t a professional trainer when I got my dog! So we have so many cues that overlap, but as I’ve grown in my knowledge, I’ve refined and refined and refined what’s needed, and I’m down to 4 cues.
Welcome to our comprehensive guide detailing the only 4 cues your dog truly needs to know. These aren’t about performing fancy tricks or showing off at the dog park, but essential commands that can keep your pet safe, happy, and mentally stimulated. By focusing on these four cues – ‘Sit’, ‘Come’, ‘Bed’ and another we’ll reveal shortly – you’re not only enhancing your bond with your furry friend but also ensuring their well-being and safety.
So sit back, and let’s embark on this exciting journey of effective, simplified communication with our beloved four-legged partners. Because at the end of the day, being able to understand and communicate with your dog is the foundation of a strong, lifelong companionship.
Why Only 4 Cues?
I know, I know, other lists stay 8, or 5 or 27 – but as a professional trainer, I’m a thorough believer that if we focus on fewer things to a higher degree, there’s less work, less stress and more success! I’ve meticulously examined everything I
You don’t need a release cue, you don’t need to have your dog heel on your left side – you simply need a dog with basic dog training commands, and a solid verbal cue.
All of these cues have been meticulously chosen to prevent incident, not to repair incidences, not to do anything fancy – except for do things together, and do them without problem!
These cues are the essentials – there’s nothing here that’s a “nice to have”, these are mission critical to success with living with a dog. And if you’re only able to teach a few things? These. Are. It.
The 1st Essential Cue: Sit (or Down)
This one is interchangeable for sit or down, I allow this one to be interchangeable because some dogs are really against knowing a sit – and that’s ok! If they’ll lay down reliably? that works too. Sit and down are basically equivalent when it comes to functionality, except for the fact your dog can
Sit Replaces: Down, Stay, Emergency Stops,
Sit Counteracts: Jumping Up, Door rushing, Barging, Social Rudeness, Eating dropped food, Running off, Climbing, Mitigates failed recalls etc
Why Sit Is Important
Sit is one of the purest of the basic dog commands and usually is the first command most dog parents will teach – and that’s for good reason. The “sit” command is crucial in dog training for several reasons. It enhances a dog’s safety by enabling control in potentially dangerous situations like traffic or unfamiliar animals. It forms the basis for further advanced training. this command improves a dog’s social interactions, helping them exhibit good manners in various settings.
Luckily, sit is really easy. The sitting position is a fairly natural one, but just one that any new dog will learn as part of their basic cues. But you can take this further in your puppy training, you can make this sit into a total asset you can whip out when you need your dog to stay in a place, in a position, or to keep them away from something.
The 2nd Essential Cue: Come
“Come” also known as recall, is the second key cue for dog training. This is a vital command because it can help prevent accidents and save your dog from harm. It also helps you keep your dog safe by preventing them from running into traffic or wandering off on their own.
Recall Replaces: Emergency Recall, leave it,
Recall Counteracts: Running away (of course), Inappropriate contact with people or dogs, Door dashing, Scavenging, Counter surfing,
Why Recall Is Important
Recall is a fundamental, and I might argue is the single most important thing to teach your pup. Even if you have a dog who will never get off leash in public – this is a cue that’s massively worth investing in, even if it’s just for the off chance that your dog wanders off (and let’s be honest, dogs do wander). It’s also a great way to get your dog’s attention when they’re being silly or showing off to another dog.
Recall takes practice, absolutely, but it’s a truly core competency that all dogs need.
If you’re still learning recall, or teaching it to a new rescue dog, make sure you have a pouch with your pup’s favourite tasty treat, grab a long line and a harness, and practice that come command over a small distance to start,
The 3rd Essential Cue: Bed or Place
When you’re home, getting pup out of the way, for whatever reason – that bed or place cue is a super quick way to move pup from location a to location b and ensure that they’re either not in danger.
Place Replaces: Training Calmness,
Place Counteracts: Door dashing, begging, Jumping on guests,
Why A Bed Or Place Cue Is Important
This one doesn’t “replace” a lot of cues, but it does make life with your dog much less stressful for you and your dog.
Oftentimes, people physically move their dogs, and that’s just not something I’d recommend for any dog, of any size.
Pro Dog Trainer Tip:
Make sure to end all training sessions on a positive note, it helps to keep you and pup in a positive state of mind for your training sessions!
The 4th Essential Cue: Loose Leash
I get mega irritated by people who walk on an off leash heel and think it’s ok in public.
Not only is it illegal in most instances to do that – but it doesn’t give you the backup of that tether which would get you out of jail if there’s a car mounting a curb or similar!
Loose Leash Replaces: Heel, off-leash heel,
Loose Leash Counteracts: Pulling,
Why Loose Leash Is Important
Loose leash walking is a critical skill because we have to go places with a leash – like the vets, and even to enjoy peaceful walks or hikes! And then not getting either your shoulder pulled out of it’s socket, or your dog injuring their trachea!
It may not replace a bunch of skills, but it is a skill that’s needed for safety for you and your pup, and as part of your dog’s training, it’s one I’d recommend all dogs have.
I was hesitant to put this on the list because to me, this isn’t a cue, this is an expectation. But I decided it did need to be here because of it’s importance.
Pro Dog Trainer Tip:
remember that young puppies will take time to learn this skill, and using plenty of praise and a small treat will really help show pup that not pulling is the best choice, and don’t feel like they have to be on your left hand side, that’s an outdated “rule”.
Just 4 Cues – But Make Them Rockstar Level
These absolutely are basic commands – and that’s a good thing. Take 4 things and train them more, use them more, and even the most “Stubborn” dog will become an easy dog when it comes to training cues. Create a strong foundation and build your dog on top of that and you will have a well-trained dog.
Making a cue “Rockstar Level” refers to the technique of reinforcing a dog’s commands to be absolutely solid and spot-on, under any circumstances. The aim is to level up the command to the point where your dog can perform it flawlessly whether at home, in the park, or anywhere else, regardless of distractions around them.
For instance, assuming the ‘Sit’ command to be “Rockstar Level” means that your dog will sit immediately upon hearing the command, no matter the environment, the distractions, or the distance from you. This level of command performance implies that the dog has thoroughly understood the command and is well-established in their training, reflecting a stronger bond between the dog and the owner.
In short? Manipulate the 3D’s (Distance, Distraction, Duration), increase it in small steps? And you’ll achieve Rockstar status quicker than you might think.
Cue Vs Command
You’ll notice through this whole blog, but particularly in this piece, that I have used “dog training Cue” as opposed to the more common “commands”. This is a nuance, and something the average dog trainer doesn’t care about, but to me, it’s important. The choice to use “Cue” instead of “Command” when I’m referring to the action we’re expecting of your dog is deliberate.
Why is this? Well, language has a big impact on us and what we expect. Command implies rigidity, command implies no negotiation, no error, no failure. And our dogs are not machines, so that really isn’t an appropriate choice.
However, cue implies we ask not demand. Which important! We ask our dogs to do things and reward them well, and they do it more! The more we then proof the cue the more reliable it becomes.
Hand Signals: Yes or No?
Sure! You totally can use a hand signal for your cue, it’s helpful in the long run, and I use a visual cue regularly, but if you have to choose between verbal or hand signal when commencing training sessions for your new puppy? I’d pick verbal.
Hand signals or cues come in useful when you’re looking to diversify when you can use your cue, for example a hand cue might be useful in a busy, loud street, or at a distance (if your cue is large enough) if your dog might struggle to hear a verbal command.
Positive Reinforcement Training
Remember, we reward with high value treats for good behavior, and we can reward all sorts of natural behaviours (such as eye contact) with a high-value treat to encourage our pups to do more of that exact thing and hone new skills that might be more “natural behaviors” as opposed to cues. If you want to dig into clicker training vs marker training, you can explore that in this article.
What This Means
Dog training is often overcomplicated – and it really doesn’t need to be. So many pet parents put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to achieve 20, 40, 100 cues as though that means their dog is trained – but that simply means they know a few cues… it doesn’t make them an easy dog to live with.
But what this means is you can just focus on acing these, and get them rockstar level! Because if you do? You’ll have a dog you can rely on in every instance.
Of course it doesn’t mean these are the only things you should ever teach your dog – these are just the absolute minimum cues a dog might need to succeed in their life if you teach them to a high degree, but if you want to teach new tricks or a new cue, it’s always a good idea to keep training for bonding purposes.
Instead, Focus On Lifeskills
Creating a dog who can do obedience is great – but having a dog who can succeed at life.
This is what socialisation is, and honestly? It’s a hundred times more important than cues and commands. Because a dog you live with can be a burden, or a joy. Make sure your dog is the latter and invest in a smaller number of cues to a much higher level of execution which will help your dog’s life be a phenomenal addition to yours.
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Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!
Thanks to depositphotos.com for the images!