Command and Cue Training
Commands and cues are the verbal and nonverbal signals we use to communicate not only our instructions or desires but also our approval, disapproval, or cautions to our dogs. Most people, when they think of obedience training, think in terms of commands related to the dog's body posture or movement -- Sit, Heel, Down, Stay, Come all fall into this category. Each command relates to an action or movement we want the dog to make (or to refrain from making), and each command has one or more verbal or nonverbal cues used to call for that behavior. For example, the command "Stay" is typically communicated with both the verbal cue "Stay" and a nonverbal cue such as a hand raised and extended outward with the palm facing the dog.
Similarly to body posture and movement commands are destination commands. These typically include both a movement command/cue, such as "Go," and a specific destination -- e.g., "Go to bed," "Go to your crate," "Go to Sally," etc. Destination commands often require both a verbal cue and nonverbal targeting or direction, such as pointing to the kennel or the person we want the dog to go to, at least until we are sure that the dog has acquired the label for the desired destination as part of its vocabulary.
Other cues are used for a different purpose. For example, "Good puppy," and "Thank you," are verbal cues used after a dog has completed the desired behavior, to encourage and reward him for his effort. Likewise, cues such as "Atta Girl," or "That's It," are used as motivators, a form of encouragement while the dog is attempting to perform a command. Most motivator or reward cues have nonverbal counterparts -- a pat on the head, a food treat, a game of tug, etc. Another kind of cue, such as "Yes" or "No," is used as a marker, similar to a clicker, at the exact moment a behavior occurs, to identify whether the behavior was correct or incorrect. As we use it, the "Yes" cue includes a promise of a food treat or other word to follow soon after. Finally, there are synchronization cues -- for example, "Settle," "Don't," "Careful," or "Quick" -- used to guide the dog's response to a situation either before it occurs or during its occurrence. With synchronization cues, it's all about the delivery -- tell a dog to "Settle" while the handler is an agitated state, speaking in an excited tone and bearing a hypervigilant posture will have exactly the opposite of the intended effect.
What all these categories of commands and cues have in common is that they have to be taught to the dog. After all, a puppy does not enter the world speaking "people." That process begins in the whelping box, where we teach the pup to alert to its name (a verbal cue) and to offer a kiss or snuggle. The pace of training picks up once the pups have been whelped and food treats can be used as rewards and motivators. As part of our JUMP START TRAINING program, each pup will be introduced to a wide variety of cues used in the training of Service Dogs and common to most basic obedience programs, among them "Come here," "Good," "Sit," "Shake," "Turn," "Down," "Here," "That's It," "Thank You," "Eyes" ( a cue that tells the pup to focus entirely on you) "Up," "Off," "Go In," "Jump On," "Yes," "Get It," "Give," "Go Potty", "Lap," "Wait," "Out," "Go to Bed (or to your Place)," "Bring It Here," "Let's Go," "Roll," "Back," "Leave It," "Stay," "Kennel," "Go to (a Person)," "Careful," and "Settle," .
In addition, by the time it is ready to head home, your puppy will have begun its introduction to housetraining and crate training. Like much else, the puppy's house training begins in the whelping box, building on dam's instincts to keep its pups, and the nesting and feeding areas, as clean as possible. As soon as the puppy is able to move about on its own, the dam will begin to demand that the pup takes care of its elimination needs outside the whelping box. From there, our trainers take over, teaching the pup to associate the scent of pine or cedar shavings with its designated place to eliminate. This makes it easier for the new owner to establish, with texture and scent of pine and or cedar shavings and the use of the "Better Hurry" cue, the puppy's new designated elimination area. The puppy will also be acclimated to being crated at night, when eating, and for brief periods throughout the day, another advantage in house training your dog once home.
Will the puppy be able to perform all of these commands and cues to perfection or to hold its elimination for eight hours while the new owner is at work? Of course not! These will still be eight-week-old puppies as they head home. The pup's motor skills are still not fully developed, its attention span is short, its memory at times will seem even shorter. In an effort to keep training upbeat and positive -- a form of play -- we reward even approximately correct behavior and use corrections sparingly. Moreover, an eight-week old pup has a very small bladder. It cannot reasonably be expected to go more than two-to-three hours during the daytime without a potty break. It will be up to you, the new owner, to make sure the pup gets to its designated elimination area on waking, soon after eating, after active play situations or excitement, and every two-to-three hours in between, and also to learn your pup's signals that it needs an immediate trip outside.
But what your pup learns now, during its first weeks of life, will be with him or her forever. He or she will be heading home with a definite JUMP START on training, including house breaking, and socialization and headed in the direction of becoming a trusted and loving companion you will treasure throughout your lives together!