Dog Training: Cues, Commands, Obedience, And Punishment

Dr. Roger AbrantesDog training is a form communication. We attach meaning to cues, signals, or commands to convey information to get our dogs to do what we’d like them to do. In this podcast Dr. Roger Abrantes and I discuss whether the words you use to describe dog training affect your relationship with your dog.

Dr. Abrantes is a dear friend of mine, a scientist, an expert in dog training, a blogger, and someone I very much admire. His experience and knowledge goes way beyond dog training. Roger’s formal education is that of an evolutionary biologist, however, as a well traveled citizen of the world who has lived in places such as Denmark, Portugal, Thailand, and Africa, he has also become a de facto expert in languages, and communication in general.

Words always come along with some sort of association. For example, when requesting a behavior from a dog, such as “high five” or “shake”, many people will tell you they are giving the dog a command. Dr. Abrantes explains that the word “command” has a militaristic connotation. A command is something that is issued and must be obeyed. No questions asked. Disobedience to a command in many cases must be severely punished. But is that really how you see your fun little request to shake your dog’s paw? Must she obey? Or, more accurately, are you simply requesting a friendly interaction with your best friend, or practicing a routine you learned in a dog training session? Is non-compliance truly a punishable offense? Shake is a friendly gesture after all.

Roger points out that before a command becomes a command it is a signal. A dog cannot obey a command he does not understand.

He believes that when we are interacting with, and communicating with our dogs it’s just like communicating with a friend or colleague. We generally don’t command each other but rather signal back and forth in a friendly and reciprocal fashion.

We also discussed whether other words commonly used as dog training vernacular, such as “obey”, should really have a place in describing the partnership that takes place between a human and a trained dog. Especially how often when people use the word “punishment” what they really mean is they are seeking “revenge”.

It was a fascinating conversation, and I hope you’ll tune in below and join in the conversation. Roger and I will be taking questions and entertaining your input in the comments section below.

If you’d like to hear more from Roger he can be found blogging away at both Dog Star Daily and his WordPress blog.

7 comments
Derell Sayer, Delta Instructor, Australia
Derell Sayer, Delta Instructor, Australia

I agree that terminology is important. When teaching clients and students, I use 'co-operate' instead of 'obey'; 'ask' instead of 'tell'; 'request' instead of 'command'; 'good manners' instead of 'obedience'. I believe this has a strong influence on their mindset and on the way they communicate with their dogs - and ultimately on their relationships with their dogs.

Jen Ticsay
Jen Ticsay

Instead of obey how about, "increased reliability"?

Bob Deeds
Bob Deeds

I've told students for years that a "cue" builds relationships and a "command" causes husbands to sleep on the couch. I've had to use commands before with my dogs, but not often. I have found that if most of the time I use "cues", then the VERY RARE occurrence that a "command" is used is done without detriment to my relationship with my dog.

Joel Cameron
Joel Cameron

Great interview. I also agree that the words we use have the power to shape our perspectives. I especially like the idea of establishing leadership by demonstrating to a dog that we have the answers to their problems. Brilliant!

Jade Robertson BA CPDT-KA
Jade Robertson BA CPDT-KA

I truly agree with the importance of words. I try to use "cue" when speaking about how we are asking our dogs for behaviour. I also have given up the word "obedience" in my class names instead using cute names such as manners.

Michael Burkey
Michael Burkey

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Abrantes...words have great meaning. Our words have importance when interacting with other people and when training our dogs. The words we choose puts us in a frame of reference as to the type of relationship we have with others. Change the words and you can change the relationship.

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