Informational cues differ from what we think of as a standard cue such as “sit” or “lay down” in that your dog does not have to perform any behavior when the cue is given. Instead, informational cues serve to let your dog know that something is going to happen to him or around him and there is no need to be scared or worried. We teach informational cues by choosing a word to let your dog know what is going to happen and then pair the event with something he enjoys, like a treat. By pairing the cue and the event with a treat, we can then shape his view of the coming event into a positive outlook. Here are three simple informational cues that can help your dog view potentially scary events in a positive light.
Lift: This one works for small dogs who gets picked up and carried a lot. The world can easily look very scary from a height that is five times your own. Let your dog know that you are intending to lift him by first choosing a verbal cue such as “lift” or “up-up” and then reaching toward him as if you were going to pick him up, then give them a treat. Practice this until you are eventually lifting him off the ground in increments until you are fully standing up with your dog in hand.
Touching of the Body: Some dogs are easily startled when touched by hand, especially if they don’t see the contact coming. Add a verbal cue such as “Got You!” or “Touching” to let him know that he should expect to feel your hand somewhere on his body. Give the verbal cue and reach toward him, then deliver a treat. Work toward being able to touch his fur with your fingers after he hears the cue. Practice touching various parts of his body for a treat. Eventually he will expect a human touch somewhere and will be ready for the contact.
What’s That?: This is a fun game to play with your dog that will help him deal with unexpected occurrences in the world later. Practice showing your dog various items he may not have seen before. Say the verbal cue “What’s That?” and reveal the item from behind your back. When he looks at the item click and treat him for being brave enough to make eye contact. Practice the “What’s That?” game with both visual and audible items. By practicing this over time, you can use the cue to let him know when something he may not expect is going to happen such as a bike rider whipping by him or prior to a noise like a vacuum or an aerosol can.
These cues are extremely helpful to avoid associating fear with unknown or possibly scary situations that your dog may not have experienced or may be uncomfortable with. Letting him know what to expect, and then pairing those outcomes with something he enjoys will only help when a real life situation presents itself. Examine the informational cues you may have already taught your dog and let us know some other great examples!
Chances are you’ve probably already trained your dog to do a hundred things and you don’t even know it. If you pick up the leash, does your dog come to you expecting a walk? When you go to bed, does your dog lay down in his bed, too? When your doorbell rings, does your dog bark? When you are preparing your dog’s dinner, does he come to you in anticipation? Picking up the leash, going to bed, ringing the doorbell, and preparing his dinner are all cues, meaning these things cue your dog to perform a specific behavior.
Dogs are learning all the time, responding to your unintentional cues whether you know it or not. Here are five things you can train your dog to do simply by bringing awareness to and/or naming the cues you are already giving your dog:
- Teach your dog to go inside on cue. Every time you come back inside from a walk, say “inside!” right before you step inside, and praise your dog once he’s inside. Doing this every time you and your dog return will teach your dog that when you say “inside” it’s time to go in. Once your dog learns what “inside” means, if your dog should accidentally get off leash while outside, say “inside” and you just might see magic happen when your dog willingly returns inside on cue.
- Teach your dog the names of his favorite toys. Every time you give your dog a toy to play with, say the name of the toy, then give it to him. This constant association between name and object will eventually start to sink in and you’ll see your dog start to pay attention next time you name one of his toys.
- Teach your dog that quiet behavior is favorable over barking behavior. When your dog is barking at something, wait until he’s quiet, and then reward him with praise and attention. He might very well go back to barking, but once he understands that every time he stops he gets rewarded from you, you will see a change in behavior. Most likely, he will then bark for shorter periods of time, then immediately come to you expecting praise and attention. Eventually, the barking behavior will diminish as your dog learns that coming to you is more rewarding. Just remember not to ignore the times he is quiet and giving you attention instead of barking.
- Teach your dog to stay off the couch (if that’s what you prefer). If you’re relaxing on the couch and your dog is relaxing on the floor close to you, praise him for being on the floor instead of the couch. He will learn that he doesn’t need to be on the couch with you to get the attention he is looking for, because being on the floor becomes just as rewarding. If this seems too obvious, you’d be surprised at how often we overlook our dog’s good quiet behavior by simply ignoring it
- Teach your dog to come to you on cue. Keep track of all the times your dog comes to you on his own. Maybe it’s when you get off the couch and are about to go upstairs. After you get off the couch, and right before you head up stairs (i.e. right before you know your dog is about to follow you), say the word “come.” Say “come” any time you notice your dog is about to come to you and eventually he will start to make the association between the verbal cue and behavior.
What other things have you taught your dog to do without realizing it?
Disclaimer: These are merely suggestions and we do not guarantee the success of your training from this small bit of advice.