We all teach our dogs commonly used cues such as “Sit,” “Down,” and “Come,” and most of us probably use them every day. I am betting that, in addition to those common cues, we each have some cues that are unique to our relationships with our own dogs – cues that are never taught in your basic “good manners” classes.
I have long had a love affair with an “All done!” or “That’s all” cue that tells my dogs that whatever activity we were engaged in is now over (similar to the “That’ll do, pig” from the beloved movie, Babe). It started in the mid-1980s with our first Australian Kelpie, Keli, who was seriously ball-crazy. Only her “All done!” cue would work to get her to stop bugging me to throw the beloved ball one more time.
I taught the cue to Keli by giving the “All done” cue and then placing the ball in a closed cupboard where she couldn’t even see it, and then steadfastly ignoring every behavior she offered to try to get the ball to come back out. Eventually she learned that there was no point in trying, and the “All done” cue effectively resulted in a calm, non-demanding Kelpie. I’ve used it with all my dogs ever since.
Some of my favorite trainers confirmed that they, too, have unconventional cues that they use with their dogs, many of which “just happened” as a result of daily life. Here are some of them:
Renee Amodeo of Vienna, Virginia, is a volunteer with Fairfax County Animal Shelter. She uses “Enough” much like I use “All done.” Her dog Dexter is an attention sponge, and when she tries to work on her laptop or read, he will paw her for attention.
To counter this, she says, “I will pat the top of his head and say ‘Enough!’ He stops and goes to the other end of the couch. I taught him this by doing just that; a tap on the head with ‘Enough,’ then ignoring any of his attempts to engage me. Initially I gave a very short timeout – just a few seconds – then would pile affection and praise on him. I gradually increase duration, and now he can go for as long as I need.”
Valerie Balwanz of Pampered Pets in Charlottesville, Virginia, uses the cue “Inside” in place of “Come” to get her dogs to come into the house from the backyard. Her “Come” cue means “Come to me,” and her “Inside” cue means to run past her into the house.
It’s useful to have an alternative to “Come” for the behavior that specifically means to come into the house, especially if your dog prefers playing in the yard to coming indoors. You can inadvertently “poison” your “Come” cue (give it a negative association) if you frequently use it to mean that the fun for your dog is over and he has to come inside now. Doing so can make “Come” become less effective when you need your dog to run happily to you. The method Valerie uses to teach “Inside” keeps her dog’s “Come” cue happy, and gives a very positive association to her “Inside” cue.
“To teach this,” Valerie describes, “I began with my dog Trixie outside when there were no distractions. I opened the back door and stood in the entryway. I tossed some kibble onto the floor, making sure that it was bouncing and rolling far into the house, and let her run toward it. As she passed through the doorway, I said, ‘Yes!’ (that’s my verbal marker – you could click instead) and let her gobble up the food.
“The kibble makes a distinct sound when tossed on the hardwood floor. The sound and the kibble’s rolling movement encourages Trixie to run inside. To increase the value of the kibble, I coat it with beef liver powder (made with a liver cube and a cheese grater).
“When Trixie was chasing the kibble into the house reliably, I introduced the cue, saying, ‘Inside!’ just before I tossed the kibble on the floor. I gradually started using the cue when she was farther out in the yard and we didn’t necessarily have eye contact. Then I started using it when there were distractions present, such as squirrels and deer. I mixed very high-value food with the kibble when she came away from distractions involving wild animals. I kept a jar of treats by the back door for years and heavily reinforced this cue. Now, when they hear the word ‘Inside!’ both of my dogs come running at top speed into the house.”
Estie Dallett of Civil Dogobedience in Washington, D.C., also has unique cues for indoor/outdoor-related behaviors, but with a different purpose. Kip, her Sheltie/Border Collie-mix, has toys that are specific to indoors and outdoors. When Kip wants to come inside but has a toy in his mouth that belongs outside – particularly dirty or noisy – she says, “Outside toy,” waits until he drops it, then lets him in. She uses “Inside toy” when he wants to go out but has a toy in his mouth that she wants to keep indoors (to keep it clean and fuzzy or to prevent it from getting lost under bushes).
Estie says, “Now he’s pretty quick to drop an item when he hears this. Sometimes it still takes him a little while to decide if he wants to stay outside to play with his favorite toy – a plastic water bottle with pebbles in it – or come in without it. So we close the door until he asks again to come in. We didn’t aim to teach it, but it evolved well!”
Go Lie Down
Carolyn Kerner of Dog Gone Right in Hammond, Louisiana, reminded me of an unconventional cue I frequently use with my own dogs: “Go lie down,” which is different from the formal “Down,” which means “lie down right now wherever you are.” “Go lie down” means “You can wander around and find a comfortable spot in which to lie down.”
Carolyn says, “I use ‘Go lie down’ with all the dogs that come into our house; it means for them to go find a comfy spot to chill, chew a bone, or just be out of the way for a little while. Most of the time I use it when I have a dog who continuously wants attention or petting and he has gotten more than his share already. I generally start the new dogs off by saying the cue, then encouraging them to go to a dog bed, and giving them something to keep them occupied. After a week or so they start picking up on it. I started using this many years ago in general conversation with my dogs.”
Usually, we tell people not use the same word for two different behaviors, but the dogs seem to understand the difference with this phrase!
Find the Poop
Lisa Marino of Head of the Class Dog Training in Winchester, Virginia, taught her Samoyeds to find hidden poop in her yard so she could scoop and keep the yard clean.
Lisa says, “It was kind of unintentional. With four dogs out at the same time in the dark (or in the snow, autumn leaves, etc.) one dog poops in one corner of the yard, and one goes in another corner. By the time I bag one deposit, the next dog has moved away from where he pooped. So even with a flashlight, I can’t always find the pile right away.”
To teach her dogs to help her find stray poops, Lisa “captured” the behavior. “As the dogs sniffed where poop was likely to be, I watched for more intense interest and got there to praise and reward them as soon as I found the poop. After a few times, when I was confident about reading the body language signs accurately, I would say, ‘Did you find the poop?’ and it eventually became a cue. I either toss a cookie to the side, so I can scoop the poop, or say, ‘Leave it’ if I am unarmed. The cue is especially useful in the autumn, when poop is hard to find among the fallen leaves in the yard.”
Simone de Lima of Brasilia, Brazil, is the founder of Pro Anima, an animal advocacy group. She lived in New England for a time and, as a Brazilian native, was unaccustomed to the cold New England winters, complete with blizzards. She taught her Lab-mix, Mali, to poop on cue so she could get back inside the warm house as quickly as possible.
Simone remembers, “I had to teach her something to get her to poop quickly because this poor Brazilian woman wanted nothing to do with the outdoors in such weather!”
To teach it, she simply gave Mail positive reinforcement (treats) for defecating, and added the cue “Coco, Mali” (a slang Portuguese term meaning “poop”) when she knew her dog was about to oblige. Simone says, “It’s the best thing I ever taught her!”
Took us a Minute
Kelly Fahey, of The DogSmith of Hunterdon in New Jersey, has a cue she uses to position her dog Cooper when she has to clean off his rear end when he has loose stools due to allergies.
Kelly describes, “In the beginning stages of Cooper’s allergy issues, he would have times where he would poop and, well, it didn’t come off clean. I would need to clean off his butt. I figured if I tossed treats on the floor he would likely move in a circle as I tried cleaning him off. I decided to toss high-value treats on the top step in our garage that comes into the house.
“There are three steps. I figured by tossing the treats on the top step, he would likely walk up and have his front paws on the second step and his hind legs still on the garage floor, keeping him at an angle where he wouldn’t walk in a circle. I made sure to scatter plenty of food on the top step so I could clean him off the entire time he was eating. If he finished eating before I was done, I stopped, scattered more treats, and continued cleaning. As I was cleaning him off I would say ‘Tookus, wanna clean your tookus?’ After a while, all I had to do was say, ‘Wanna clean your tookus?’ and he would run to the steps and get into position.
“I selected the word ‘tookus’ rather than ‘butt’ because he loves having his butt rubbed, and already has a cue for that. He will roll into a half somersault position and keep his butt in the air while we scratch it or pat it and say, ‘Where’s your butt?’ His tail wags like a weapon and he makes sounds that rival a dinosaur. I didn’t want to confuse his fun game of ‘Where’s your butt?’ by using ‘butt’ for the cleaning behavior.”
Kelly Fahey, the trainer who taught her dog Cooper the “tookus” cue, also taught him an inadvertent cue when it was time to take his allergy medication.
Kelly recalls, “I didn’t set out to teach this cue. It was my intention to make Cooper’s pill-taking a fun game. Each time I needed to give a pill (or pills), I would call him over and happily say, ‘Do you want your pills?’ I’d hide them in various pieces of food.
“Each time I would stuff a pill and go to give it to him I would repeat, ‘Do you want your pills?’ in a super happy, playful tone. Now, all I have to say is ‘Do you want your pills?’ and he will come running from anywhere.
“For a bonus behavior, my other dog, Brynn, has learned that ‘Do you want your pills?’ means to sit patiently on the other side of me (Cooper always gets his pills on the right side, she waits on the left), while I play pharmacist. When I’m done giving out the meds, she gets a treat for sitting nicely and not being a noodge.”
You’re Not Going
My Kelpie, Kaizen, provided the motivation for yet another unconventional cue in the Miller household. My husband and I recently started taking Kaizen to agility classes at Kamp Kitty in nearby Falling Waters, West Virginia, and he adores his class – so much so that he started getting totally amped up every time we made preparations to go anywhere. We began telling him “You’re not going!” anytime he wasn’t accompanying us, and he quickly learned it meant he was staying home, so there was no point in getting all excited.
Now when we give him the “You’re not going!” cue he calms right down – and looks a little sad.
Win a Prize!
Now it’s your turn. I’m willing to bet there are a ton of Whole Dog Journal readers who have unconventional and unintentional cues that they use with their own dogs. Send a description of yours to WDJEditor@gmail.com by June 15, and we’ll include some in a blog post on wholedogjournal.com and pick one winner to receive a Pat Miller book or DVD.
Author Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor, and lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center.