Learn How to Attach Verbal Cues to Behaviors

March 16, 2024

We often use hand signals to prompt movement, but learning how to attach cues to those behaviors is much more convenient.  For instance, is it easier to point to the ground for down or simply say the cue?  In this blog, we will discuss the process of teaching verbal cues for learned behaviors.


Don’t Use the Verbal Cue Right Away


Why wouldn’t you just start saying the verbal cue right away?  Because it’s meaningless chatter when the dog doesn’t know what you’re asking, so the dog doesn’t interpret it as important.  I don’t attach verbal cues until the dog readily offers the behavior, either on its own or through prompting.  Once the behavior is predictable, I will start to name it.



Let’s start with sit as an example.  Most dogs will readily sit if you are standing up holding a treat.  Allow the dog to offer an (uncued) sit and mark and reward as soon as they do.  You can toss a treat a few feet away to reset and allow the dog to come back to you and offer another sit, again marking and rewarding.


Once your dog is predictably running up to you and sitting, you can start saying “sit” right before the dog gets to you.  Continue to mark and reward to build value for the behavior.


Attach the Cue to Behaviors Example


Here is Rise’s very first training session with sit.  Notice how I am not verbally cueing the behavior but instead letting him offer it.  As the session goes on, you’ll see that he starts sitting more often.



This is our second session, when I am standing up.



Finally, here’s what cueing the sit looks like.



Down is another really great example, although it’s a behavior that is not offered as readily as the sit.  You can teach down by luring it with a treat.



In this video, when I can easily lure the down, I start to attach the cue to the behavior.



In order to remove the hand prompt, you need to transfer the cue to the verbal.  To do this, say the new cue (“down”) followed by the familiar cue (hand prompt).  It’s important to say down, pause, then follow with the hand signal.  This will allow the dog to hear and process the verbal down.  If you say down and signal at the same time, your body movement will overshadow the verbal cue.


Shortly, you’ll notice the dog start to lay down when you say down.  Make sure you reward this effort, even if they don’t lay all the way down at first.


Here’s what the final behavior looks like.



Having the ability to attach the verbal cue to already-trained behaviors will make your training much easier.  Take your time, have patience, and don’t start using the verbal cue until the behavior is predictable.


If you want to learn how to attach verbal cues to your dog’s behaviors, we start this progress right away in our Basic Manners classes!  Come join us today to learn this valuable skill!

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