Don’t Be a Cue Nagger!

Don't be a cue nagger

By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA

Has a friend or family member ever nagged you to do something? Wasn’t it frustrating? How much worse was it when you didn’t really understand what they wanted from you? Now think about when we are training our dogs…how many times do you give them a verbal cue? Do you say “sit” five times before their butt hits the floor? If so, you are a cue nagger.

Dogs don’t do things out of spite or stubbornness. If they are not responding to a verbal cue, there could be many reasons! Either they don’t know what that word means (more on that to come), they are stressed, the level of distraction is too high or you have repeated yourself enough times that they’ve learned to tune you out. 

When you are teaching your dog a behavior, it is important not to add a verbal cue until the behavior is solid. Dogs generally pick up hand signals much faster than verbal cues. Dogs communicate via body language and our body language is much easier to read than our words. Think of how many different ways you can make the word “Sit” sound. Hand signals can help you avoid nagging.

Only then would you introduce a verbal cue. It is VERY important HOW you introduce the cue:
After the behavior is solid with the visual cue, you would say your new verbal cue BEFORE you move a muscle to do the visual cue. Click and treat for your dog responding correctly. Then you would put time between your new verbal cue and your old visual cue. Wait your dog out and see if they will offer the behavior you want after you say the first cue while they are waiting for you to do the old signal.  It’s important that your dog knows the hand signal first.

Nagging weakens the strength of your cue. If you are having to repeat yourself, your dog is giving you valuable feedback. They may be overwhelmed, stressed, unable to understand what you are asking for, or simply not ready to practice in that environment. If this happens take a step back, go somewhere quiet, and work on strengthening that behavior. 

Next time you are training with your dog, play the quiet game. Try to go the whole session without saying a word. You just may realize how much you’ve been nagging your dog!