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Cue vs Command – Why It Matters | Pupford

July 25th, 2023

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Do the words we use in dog training matter? In this episode, we break down why the distinction of “cue” vs “command” matters and how it can benefit your dog’s behavior!

But, first a quick story about plants.

a house plant study about positivity

I’ve always enjoyed house plants but just recently that enjoyment has turned into almost an obsession. I love learning about different types of plants, what makes them grow, and how to keep them happy.

Is it just sun, soil, and water? Or can words make a difference?

In a study, researchers set out to discover if how we talk to plants makes a difference in their growth. While the study has its limitations, the researchers spent 30 days telling two identical plants different things.

Plant 1 was told positive phrases like “be healthy” and “we love you”.

Plant 2 was told negative phrases like “useless plant” and “you are stupid”.

After 30 days of this testing, Plant 1 was healthier and happier.

The researchers found Plant 1 grew taller and even had healthier leaves.

So, words matter.

Now, to the podcast.


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terminology in dog training

In the early stages of Pupford as a company, we spent lots of time learning from trainers and experts, like Zak George. And one of the things he mentioned was using the word cue and behavior, instead of command.

Since that time, we’ve tried to stick to that at Pupford. Here’s why 👇

We believe that training a dog hinges on communication and relationship building. While there are plenty of techniques, nuances, and tips specific to behaviors, we must foster a healthy relationship with our dogs.

So, let’s define these two opposing words, cue and command.

Cue: Anything that excites to action: stimulus.

Command: To require authoritatively; demand.

Do you see the vast difference?!

Are you wanting to demand and require from your dog, or excite them into action?

And ask yourself, how do you prefer to learn (that’s what your dog is doing btw, learning)?

When we approach dog training with a communicative approach like with the word ‘cue’, it becomes a 2-way street.

Instead of demanding things of our dogs, we give them choices and reward the correct ones. With positive reinforcement.

Quick note. We’re not condoning a lack of structure and consequences for actions for our dogs. Our dogs need feedback and structure.

Another point on cues is that they should be introduced once a behavior is learned and has meaning.

  1. Luring, capturing, or shaping correct behaviors
  2. Marking and rewarding the behaviors when they occur
  3. Once the behavior has been marked and rewarded to where our dog understands, then introduce the cue word

Commands often precede the being learned. Then a consequence or reinforcement is delivered whether it happens or not.

The ‘cue’ mentality is all about understanding and choice, and less about demands.


In most cases, you can break down a lack of follow-through by our dogs into three different reasons:

  1. Your dog doesn’t actually understand the cue
  2. Distractions are more enticing
  3. Not enough reward or upside


a confused dog not understanding a cue

I had the opportunity to live in a foreign country and learn the language. In the early stages, there were countless times when people yelled/shouted things at me and I had no clue what they were saying.

I heard the words, but they didn’t connect to the actual meaning in my brain.

Even though they were telling me to turn around, I kept walking because their words were meaningless.

Often we make the same mistake with our dogs.

“Buddy come… Buddy come… BUDDY COME!”

Did Buddy hear the word ‘come’? Likely.

But does it mean anything to him? Maybe not.

Again, this is why adding the cue word after your dog understands the behavior can have massive benefits.

So if your pup doesn’t seem to listen, ask yourself if he/she really knows what the words mean! Have there been enough reinforcements when said behavior is accomplished?


distracted dog not listening

In other situations, your dog may understand the cue word but is overwhelmed by distraction. That distraction can come in many forms... squirrels, other dogs, a car, food on the ground, the list goes on.

In this instance, distractions need to be lowered and training needs to continue. Then, layer by layer you can add more distractions to the behavior.

You wouldn’t expect a brand new basketball player to know how to perform in front of a crowd of 50,000. They need to start with the basics, build up an understanding of situations, and then grow into that crowd size.

The same goes for your pup!


First off, this type of training will not require you to rely on treats forever. BUT, you do need reinforcers at some frequency, especially in the early stages.

Remember how fast your classroom would clean up after an activity when your teacher said everyone could leave class as soon as the room was clean?

Our dogs care about what’s being offered as a reward as well.

So, choose high-value treats. You can also use fetch, tug, affection, and even verbal praise as reinforcers.

The key is to find what works best for YOUR dog. What do they care about?


While you may think it is “just words”, it’s all about mindset.

The way we mentally approach our dogs and their behavior can play a huge role in their behavior growth and learning.

Just like the plants hearing positive words, our dogs thrive in environments that foster growth, positivity, and clear communication.

How have you noticed your word choice playing a role in your dog’s behavior? Let me know in the comments!

And if you’re ready to dive deeper into building a strong level of communication with your dog, sign up for Pupford Academy today!


Hello, pup parents, and welcome to today's episode of the Perfect Pup Podcast. My name is Devin. This is going to be a good episode. I'm going to talk to you today about the difference in the words we use when we even reference how we're training our dogs. We're going to focus in on two words in particular and kind of how we can find differences between those. But before that, I want to tell a story about plants. So let's get right into it.

There have been multiple iterations of this type of study, and each one has its limitations, but different researchers have set out to find what the difference is for plants when we use positive or negative words. There have been multiple studies. Basically what happens is this, in each study, the one I'll reference, they had two different plants. The exact same type of plant. They kept everything equal in regards to the amount of sunlight, temperature, how much they were getting, et cetera. The two differences ... there was one. And that's why this study has its limitations. But the one difference for one plant is they were saying positive things to that plant for the 30 days that they did this test. They also had it near other plants, which I think can sway this slightly. The other plant was told negative things.

For example, the one plant, every day they would go to it and they would say things like, "You're such a great plant. I can't wait for you to blossom. It's going to be so exciting. You're going to grow. You're going to be a great plant." To the other plant, they were saying things like, "You suck. You're a terrible plant. No one wants you. You're not going to grow." Things like that. And wouldn't you guess, what those researchers found is that the plant that was hearing positive things as it was growing grew taller, had healthier leaves, generally was a better, healthier plant. You might be asking, "Well, those are just plants."

You know what? I want want to say this, if something like that can have an impact on a plant, which in our minds, typically in society, we think a plant is a relatively basic thing, right? Give it water, give it sunlight, give it healthy soil. Some fertilizer, those types of things. Keep the plant healthy. Finding that the simplicity of a plant can benefit from the words that we speak to the plant should really kind of help us understand how we should talk about and to our dogs.

Let me tell you this, there are a lot of parts that go into raising a well-behaved dog or puppy. It's not just the words that we use. Of course, you need to use the right training techniques. You need to do things that ... You need to capture behaviors. You need to mark behaviors. You need to be rewarding with the right rewards. You need to do all the things that are important, but there are other aspects of training and of how we think about our dogs that can make a difference, just like with those plants.

I want to talk about the words cue and command. Cue is anything that excites to action. That is the dictionary definition, one of the definitions, anything that excites to action. Command, one of the definitions of it is to require authoritatively or demand. So, again, think about those two differences in just the words and what they mean in our everyday lives. Something that excites you to action versus something that is demanded of you authoritatively, or required of you authoritatively.

When we talk about our dogs, you've maybe noticed here at Pupford, we always try to use the word cue when we are teaching and talking about dog training, and to avoid the word command. This is something that was a discussion we had early on in the stages of Pupford with Zak George. It's something he brought up with us and really kind of helped us realize, "Yeah, that is part of our ethos as well. The way we want to talk about training our dogs and the way we want to have the conversation about how our dogs learn and how we work with them and train them to be a positive thing." Again, the authoritative, demanding, requiring of a command versus something .. a word that excites to action.

To break it down in the differences as well, from a more strictly training standpoint, typically, the model, if you're using commands, is you're saying ... you're telling your dog to sit and then maybe you're luring them. And as they do, then you reward. You're asking for it before they maybe have the learned understanding of it ... of punishment, just in the hitting your dog kind of way. That's not what I'm referencing only when I say punishment, but some type of punishment mechanism to tell your dog, "No, that was incorrect." Whereas with the cue, it often is coming after the behavior is learned. That's where you have capturing. And that's where you have shaping and marking. You are kind of guiding your dog towards what you want them to do.

And then, and only then, the time comes that you have the behavior learned. Then you introduce the cue and then the cue already has more value behind it. Versus just a word saying "sit," and your dog not understanding what it has to do. Right away, the word sit has less meaning and understanding behind it, just with how our dogs learn. Whereas if you can teach your dog to sit first and then you introduce the cue word once they understand it, you have allowed your dog the opportunity to understand, and you've created a stronger bond with the cue because they already know the behavior, it's just tying the word to it. So even outside of the definition side of cue versus command, how you're going about it makes a difference.

If you've fallen along with 30 Day Perfect Pup and any of the courses in Pupford Academy, really, the method we like to go towards is more of that cue-based method of, "Let's teach our dogs what we want them to do first." If you go check out the dog trick training classes, as part of Pupford Academy, Amber Aquart teaches that one. In all of them it's you're luring, you're guiding, you are trying to get your dog to make the right choice on their own, and then marking and rewarding, and then introducing the cue once your dog is consistently doing it.

So, this mindset shift, it might seem subtle, but it makes a difference. Just like with those plants that heard positive things and there was a more positive tone with them. It makes a difference for our dogs as well. You might be thinking, "It's just a word," and maybe you're right, but I've always been of the mindset of, "If I can do anything to help my dogs be more successful, feel more comfortable, and want to have a better relationship with me than I'm going to do that because that's where improved behavior comes."

What I've seen in my life is, as I have a better relationship with my dogs, better communication, it's more of a two-way street versus me just saying, "Do this," and, "That's it." They've improved. Their behavior is improved. I can take my dogs off leash. I can take them on long walks because they're responsive. I've created that bond and that relationship because I've tried to model after this kind of theory of, "I'm going to look at my dog training as cues instead of commands. And I want to have my dogs have the opportunity to make these decisions on their own versus this is what you have to do every single time." You know what? You might be thinking to yourself, "Okay, this is all nice and fine, but what happens if I believe that my dog has this and they're still not understanding the cue. They don't necessarily know what I'm asking of them."

Let's break that down. There's usually a few reasons. I got some of these from an article from Victoria Stilwell, who is a renowned dog trainer. But typically there's three reasons as to why your dog does not perform the cue. Your dog doesn't respond to the cue. Again, going back to the definition, a cue is anything that excites to action. So you're giving this word of, "Hey, this is what I want you to do." Sometimes your dog still doesn't do it. There's usually three reasons as to why.

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Devin: The first one, and probably the most important, is that your dog doesn't actually know the cue, which means you probably have not done enough teaching before you introduced the cue. Meaning, the word just doesn't have any meaning for them. I had the opportunity in my life to learn a foreign language. There were times where people were yelling things at me. Like, they were telling me to stop in this foreign language, crossing a street or, "Don't go that way," or something. They're yelling these words to me and they didn't mean anything, so I didn't make any decisions based off of what I was hearing. Often that happens with our dogs. They don't actually understand the words that we're telling them. When you say "come," they might not actually know exactly what is expected of them for that. So, if your dog isn't responding to a cue, I think in most cases, they just don't actually know it.

The second reason, and this would be a close second reason, would be that the distractions are more enticing in their environment. That can come in a whole host of different ways, right? It could be other dogs. It can be other people. It could be squirrels. It could be birds. It could be a tasty snack on the ground. It could be whatever is more enticing to your dog than what you're asking of them. So again, if you're saying, "Hey, I want you to come to me," but there's a squirrel running the other direction, in their brain they're saying, "That squirrel is more exciting. There's more value that I can derive from going after that squirrel than coming back to my human." So understand that distractions play a role if your dog isn't seeming to become excited when you give the cue word and want to perform an action. So think about distractions and how those are affecting the communication with your dog.

The third reason is that there's just not enough upside. Our dogs, they need reinforcers. Just like we do as humans. If you went to your job and your boss said, "You know what? I really like what you're doing. I've been paying you for a while. You've been getting the behavior done that I've been asking for. I think I'm going to stop paying you." How long would you want to keep working at that job? Would you care? Maybe you would still do it for a little bit because there is already some connection there, but how long are you really going to last there? The same thing goes with our dogs.

I will say this, because some of you might be thinking, "Well, am I going to have to use treats always and forever?" No, you're not. But you need to understand that in high distraction environments, and in environments, especially as your dog is learning, again, I need to hit on that even more. It's like, as your dog is learning, you need reinforcers. I don't care what anyone else says. You need some type of reinforcement. It does not have to be treats, but there needs to be enough interactions where your dog performs the behavior, that you give the cue and they do what is asked of them, and they get reinforced.

That is what learning is like in a nutshell for our dogs. They need to know a positive reinforcement. Sometimes it's a treat. Sometimes it's throwing a ball. Sometimes it's playing tug. For some dogs it can even just be praise and affection. But you're giving a reward when your dog performs the cue correctly. And over time, the connection gets made in their brain of, "This word was asked. I did this. I got a reward. I'm going to be way more likely to do that in the future." So those would be a handful of reasons as to why your dog may not be performing cues when you're hoping that they will be, and it's not happening. Look for those three things. They don't actually know what the cue word really means. There's too many distractions or the competing distractions are too enticing. Or the rewards aren't strong enough.

One final note on the rewards. Doesn't have to be treats. Treats are important. Treats are great. I use treats when I train my dogs. I think it's important, and I mix it up. But I also use fetch. I also use tug. I also use affection if there's none of the other things available. Giving some type of reinforcement to my dog to say, "Hey, I gave you a cue. You performed it. You made the right choice. Here's something to let you know you did the right thing."

I hope you found this episode insightful. I hope it gets you thinking about the words that you use when you are communicating with your dog. I hope that you look at dog training as a communication. Because I think if it's too much of a one way street, we are constantly demanding and requiring our dogs by using commands, and just saying, "This is what you have to do," versus having communication with our dogs, giving them opportunity and allowing them to learn on their own, and then reinforcing when they make the right choice is going to make such a difference. For me, it's a mental thing. You know what? In my personal opinion, a lot of things in life are mental. It starts in our heads. So if we can look at how the words that we're using, and how we're think about our dogs and the behaviors and the training that we're doing with them, we're going to see better relationships with our dogs. When you have a better relationship, you get better communication. When you get better communication, you often get better behavior.

I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a friend who is needing help with training their dog, please send this episode to them. Wherever you're listening, you can probably hit share. You can copy the link. Whatever it is, share this episode with your friends. And I am asking you genuinely, if you have not already, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Especially a written review. Tell me what you like. Tell me what you want me to improve on. Tell me other things you want to hear about in future episodes. It would be much appreciated. Other than that, we will catch you on the next episode.


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