You bring your new puppy home and right away want to begin training your new puppy so you say “Fido! Come! Or “Spot, sit!”.
Everyone wants his or her new puppy to sit when asked or come running when called the first day the pup enters the home. 
Think about this for a moment.  

What language does your dog speak? English, French, Italian, Hebrew, Cantonese? The answer is, none of the above. Read more about why your dogs don’t understand what you say: “Dogs Don’t Speak English” – (

I’m sure anyone who has ever been to a country where his or her mother tongue is not spoken, can relate.  If your dog doesn’t understand your language, how is he going to understand what “sit” means? Or “come”?  Or  “Fido” Or anything else you are going to ask.

Your dog, in a sense, is coming into your home from another country. He has a different language.  You don’t understand his and he doesn’t understand yours.

Have you ever noticed how intently your dog looks at you when you are talking to him? He is trying to figure out what you want by watching your face and gestures. It’s your job to train your dog and teach him a vocabulary where each command/cue has a specific behaviour associated with it. 

For example: 

“Fido “ means look at me.

“Sit” means put your bum on the floor.

“Come” means run to me

“Down” means lie down on the floor.

Sit cannot and will never mean get the ball. Down will never mean get up on the couch. Each command has a specific meaning.

Many trainers, myself included, will often work with hand signals and lure a dog into position, or capture behaviour (rewarding a behaviour as you see it happen without prompting it) before adding a command. We want to make sure the dog is doing the behaviour we want before we attach a label to it.

Why? To avoid the following scenario.

Your dog is sitting still, you call him, “Fido, come!”, he doesn’t move. That is not because he’s ignoring you or being defiant. It’s because he hasn’t been taught the act of running to you  is called “come”.

Think back to the comparison of being in a country where your mother tongue is not spoken. You are sitting at a quiet café drinking your morning coffee and someone says, “come over here” in a different language. You will probably look towards the source of the sound, but that’s about it. Until the person gestures or otherwise encourages you to come, you will not know what to do.

After a few repetitions of hearing that word associated with the corresponding behaviour the odds of you responding correctly in that circumstance will increase.

Imagine you are just beginning to figure out what that new word means and you’ve gotten it right a few times. Now, the person is using that word in a sentence. I don’t know about you but when I hear a new language, I can’t tell where one word ends the next begins. It often sounds like one run on sentence to me.

Apply that same concept to interacting with your new puppy because it’s the same thing.
  We use language our dogs are not familiar with, expecting them to do as we ask.
All dogs know how to sit, lie down, come running to you and sit still (stay). Just watch them. You will see them offer these behaviours on a regular basis.
What we want is for the dog respond to our cue (command) when asked. We don’t actually have to teach them how to do it. We do need to associate a label with it so we can ask for it.

It’s not uncommon for people to think their dog understands a command when in fact the dog is guessing. They do this based on gestures, context and patterns.

You can test this easily. If you believe your dog knows what “down” means, try this:

Step 1:

Stand perfectly still. Have someone watch you or use a mirror to ensure you are not moving. Keep your body perfectly still, hands in your pockets or by your side, look forward. Make sure your buddy is watching to ensure your body is not moving in any manner. If you are using a mirror, ensure you are looking at yourself in the eyes, not at the dog. 

Ask your dog to “down”. Say it once and see what happens. Usually nothing.

What many are totally unaware of is how much information is being given via body movements and not via the command. Every person I’ve done this exercise with bends slightly as they say “down”. 

You think the dog is responding to the command when in fact they are responding to the physical cues you are unconsciously giving.

Step 2:

Don’t say a word. Bend slightly at the waist and see what your dog does.

Most likely your dog will lie down.

I used to have clients try this in class and everyone was shocked at the results. There was laughter and lots of surprised faces. People who were convinced their dog knew the command, were watching their dog as he or she stared back at them or sat instead of lie down.

Try it. Let me know how it goes. Even better – make a video and post it on my Facebook page. No cheating!
If your dog responds to your command to down without body movement from you – give yourself a bonus!

In another blog I will write about how and when I do add the command (or cue, as I refer to them).