Dog’s Eye View: Command versus cue
… Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read …
— Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
This quote is from a favorite poem. It struck me while I was thinking of this article that Shelley might better describe some external and internal expressions of the concept of giving our dog a “command” to do a certain behavior. Ozymandias was a king, and I believe that his intention on giving a command was something akin to “do or die.”
Knowing a little bit about the history of dog training helps us understand the evolution of pet dog training. During World War II, many self-sacrificing families surrendered their pet dogs for the war effort. The dogs were to be of a certain size, usually about the size of a German shepherd, and of an age to begin training for a rigorous life. I believe the minimum age was about six months.
The goal was to get these fine, brave dogs into service in about six months. Consequently, training was quite rigorous and exacting. It had to be. Depending on the task at hand, lives were at stake. And in a military environment, of course, the dogs were commanded to do each behavior.
This mindset followed through after the war into the pet dog training world. There were a few well-known trainers at the time who pioneered the organized “group family dog classes” that are the very early models for what we now do, but with some significant differences.
One main difference from those early classes to the classes we teach now is the method we use to teach dogs and their owners. For one thing, we start teaching puppies the day they come into our home. We don’t wait until they are six months old and adolescent. Now, we say to our students, “cue your dog to sit” rather than “command your dog to sit.” You might think, “What does it matter, it’s just another word?”
To me, the word “command” carries the intention of a demand to receive one’s due or have the power to dominate, among other things. The word “cue” is a signal or prompt to begin a specific action. The intention is quite different. And, using the considerable power of positive reinforcement, there’s no threat of punishment if Buddy doesn’t understand what we’ve tried to communicate to him. There is no guile about him. Buddy is learning a foreign language, and we’re building a beautiful, trusting relationship with him.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.
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