Do you use Cues or Commands? » Compassionate Canine Training

It may seem like semantics, but here are my brief thoughts on the topic.  I think it will illustrate clearly why semantics matter and how it can change your outlook on training.Dog trainers are not perfect.  This is the story of Kelly Keeney, the frustrated dog owner and a certified professional dog trainer and how easy it is to forget how good behavior is built in training.

I hate living in a house where dogs bark all the time, it makes my brain go crazy.   My cue for my old pup Bodhi was “that is enough” it meant it was time to stop barking and come find me.  He was well trained since 8 weeks of age and very responsive.  Later, I adopted Tara, a five year dog.  She was in need of a great deal of rehabilitation from a life of stress and fear.  BOY oh BOY did Tara bark at everything!   I would get edgy and frustrated with her and say the words – “that is enough”, “That is ENOUGH”, “THAT IS ENOUGH!!!” over and over again when she barked.  My voice would be louder, my body language would stiffen and I would COMMAND* my dog to stop barking “or else”.

About 3 weeks into Tara living with me, I saw myself through her eyes and realized how reactive I was behaving and how far from positive reinforcement I was.

Dogs do not speak English as a first language and Tara doesn’t stop barking because the words have no meaning to her.  Eventually, I would walk over and close or door, shut the blinds that would get the barking to stop.  Tara has now learned that barking will provide the following reinforcers: 1. Her mom will “bark” with her.  2.  Mom will approach the door to check it out.  and 3. Mom will then make the “scary thing outside” go away by closing the door and/or shades.  As a result, barking behavior was made stronger.

 Here is how I changed trained Tara to change this experience for both of us.  I took a good look at what I really wanted from my dog and made a training plan:

  • I wanted her to bark.  I believe dogs should bark and I like people to know I have a dog.
  • I want her to stop when requested and the first time I asked.

I began step by step to shape the behavior I wanted.  I began to MARK** (click) and REINFORCE***Tara with small piece of treats or part of her breakfast kibble when she was near the door and looking out but NOT barking. I set up training sessions 3-5 minutes at a time I stood near the door to get numerous repetitions in a row.  Other times I went about my day marking (click) ANYTIME she was near the door/window and not barking.  Within a week or so of daily practice, Tara would go to the door, look out and then look at me as if to say “hey are you going to give me that treat”  Now we are ready to add a word for “be quiet”  I began to say “Thank You” as my CUE**** just before marking (clicking) the behavior.  I picked that word as it is hard to yell that word, so pick something happy or silly to be your cue.

Within the next three (3) days I was able to say “Thank You” and Tara would come running away from the door to find me.   Now I introduced the game when she was barking. I would say “thank you”, mark the behavior and reinforce with food as soon as she stopped on her own.   I stood closer to her to be sure I could catch the moments of quiet.  Gradually I began getting further and further away.  It took about two weeks for her to totally “get it”.  Then I began to only reward every other time, or every third time etc..  Weaning off the cookies.

I can honestly say that in two-three weeks she had full understanding that the words “Thank You” are a CUE to stop barking and go find Mom.  There may not be food anymore, but sometimes there is, plus there is always love, praise and ear rubs!

If you would like to learn to Cue your dog to stop barking, please email for a free step by step “Stop Barking Protocol” handout.


* COMMAND = An order given to Obey. or the authority, right, or power to demand response.   In dog training we say a command has an implied “OR ELSE” 

** MARK / CLICK = A sound that is used to indicate the correct behavior has been performed and that a reward is to follow.  A dog sits, you click the clicker / say yes / blow a whistle, snap your fingers. you then provide a treat.  (later it can be a toy or love or other thing your dog would like to have in that moment.)

*** REINFORCE – strengthen (an existing feeling, idea, or habit)  I reinforced the dog for sitting by providing his favorite treat whenever he sat down

**** CUE = Comes from the word cuando.  It is an acting word “to take your cue”  means to know WHEN to behave.  In dog training it lets your dog know WHEN a reward/reinforcer is available.