Command Vs Cue: In Puppy Training What Is The Difference?

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Command vs Cue
Command vs Cue

I’ve never studied linguistics, but I’ve noticed there are some subtleties in words and language that I need to pay attention to in personal life, business, and of course in the puppy training world.  This became very apparent when I first learned the difference between a command vs cue.  At first glance the two words seem very similar, but in fact they are very different.

Command Vs Cue

When I first heard the word cue replace the word command at puppy training class I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I’ve been working in the technical training industry for nearly 20 years and I’ve seen the industry choose new terms to replace existing terminology.  Back in the late 90’s I was told that the industry thought the term trainer had a negative connotation as if we were training dogs (oh goodness the horror…sarcasm) not people.  I slowly noticed a new set of words were rolled out:

  • Trainers – were now Subject Matter Experts (SME)
  • Students – were now Learners

So, was the term cue basically the same thing as a command and just the dog training industry moving on to new terminology?

What is a Command?

Command verb – as defined in dictionary.com

  1. to direct with specific authority or prerogative; order
  2. to require authoritatively; demand
  3. to have or exercise authority or control over; be master of; have at one’s bidding or disposal

What is a Cue?

Cue noun – as defined in dictionary.com

  1. anything said or done, on or off stage, that is followed by a specific line or action
  2. anything that excites to action; stimulus
  3. a hint; intimation; guiding suggestion

As you can see the two words are very different.  Lets take a look at a definition from the Karen Pryor Clicker Training website:

“…A command implies a threat: “Do it or I will make you.” A command is given before the behavior is learned, and it can be enforced if the dog does not comply. For example, a trainer may teach “sit” by pushing down on the dog’s rump while saying sit, repeating the word and action over and over until the dog figures out that the word sit goes with the action of sitting, and that sitting fast enough will prevent the rump pushing. In the early stages of this kind of training, the dog associates the command “sit” with all kinds of stimuli and with actions that have nothing to do with the dog sitting on its own…”

And a little further down:

…”A cue is completely different from a command. There is no threat implied with a cue. A cue is like a green light that tells the dog that now is the time to execute a behavior for the chance of reinforcement…”

How Are We Training Archer?

Now that we know the difference between a command and a cue what are we teaching Archer?  Do we give him commands or cues?

I had a plan for Archer.  His breeder started clicker training him from day one.  My goal was to extend what Archer had already learned and continue clicker training him.

I had a remedial background in clicker training after attending service dog training classes with Tender Loving Canine Assistance Dogs (TLCAD), reading Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot The Dog, and other clicker training publications, but I had very little practical training.  Yes, I had worked with some of the service dogs at TLCAD and yes, I had worked at home with my personal dogs: Stetson, Linus, and Raven.  However, I wanted more guidance and that’s where Wags and Wiggles Training For Life (TFL) program came into play.

Wags and Wiggles was perfect for Archer’s training!  Touted as Southern California’s Largest Clicker Training School of Positive Reinforcement.  Here’s a little blurb from Wags and Wiggles:

“…Our goal is for every human and dog to achieve the best relationship possible. We strongly believe in giving the human and dog end of the leash positive feedback during learning. We use a combination of food, praise, toys, real life rewards and clicker training.

…Old training methods focused solely on stopping bad behavior through the use of force. Wags & Wiggles focuses on positive reinforcement of good behavior. We have a program for every dog no matter the breed, size, age or problem!”

Back to the questions at hand: How are we training Archer?  Are we giving him commands or cues?

We train Archer by giving him cues not commands.  Clicker training is a different type of training then some of the aversive methods we learned as Guide Dogs of America (GDA) puppy raisers.  I’m not going to say it’s better or worse it’s just different.  I may be tooting a different horn this time next year, but for now I’m a clicker training noob and need to immerse myself in the clicker training world before coming to meaningful conclusions about which methods might be best for my puppies.

As always I preach patience, persistence, and consistency no matter how you decide to train your puppy.

How about you guys?  Command vs Cue…which do you use with your puppy?  Tell us all about how you train your puppy in the comment section below.

Command vs Cue
Command vs Cue

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19 Comments

  1. Can you give me an example between command and cue? Is cue just means that you are using the clicker instead of saying a command?

    1. We use the words commands and cues fairly interchangeably on this site. The big difference to me is a command is more telling your dog to do something where as a cue is more of a guiding suggestion. Basically something like SIT! (command) vs sit (cue). I’m not sure that makes sense, but hopefully it helps.

  2. Command says the dog must do what you say. Cue means the dog does what you say if he decides, at that moment, that the reward you give is worth it. Chicken or squirrel chase? So I ask you, who do you want to be in charge, you or your dog? Treats are great for teaching new behavior, but once learned, the dog needs to do what you say, just because you are in charge.

  3. Hello Colby,

    This something very interesting thing to find today.
    Command vs Cue something totally different from each other.
    Learned here that these are opposite to each other.

    I would choose to go with the word cue, as it is more decent
    and the dog would also not be threat against us.
    Yeah I could not have a dog trainer for some reason, so what if
    we train our dogs, with the help of these commands by our self.

    Thanks for the important share.
    Shantanu sinha

    1. Hi Shantanu, Archer is our first dog that we are exclusively trying to use cues. Everything is going well as we are 2 weeks into our third class. 🙂

  4. I think I use cues with our dogs. I never pushed our dogs butts down; our trainer taught us how to hold the treats so our dogs naturally sat down on their own.

    At the moment, I’m training the dogs not to race towards the trail next to our house when a cyclists passes by, not to race to our neighbor’s property when he’s outside, and not to visit the chickens next door. (no fence)

    What I did was use the word “bicycle” which they know to signify that it’s time for a treat -after doing this for a short time, the dogs began coming to me when they saw a bicycle. Rodrigo will sit and watch for one, then come to me for his treat.

    I have had to physically move our dogs; when Scout wouldn’t come to me because he was mesmerized by a rooster, I grabbed him by the scruff and turned him towards our property. After a couple times, he understood that it was time to go home.

    I don’t think I understand the difference between commands and cues. Sit is sit, I thought.

    1. The difference between a command and a cue that I’ve noticed in the dog training is that with a command you force your dog to do something while associating a word at the same time. For instance, pushing down your dogs butt and saying “sit” On the other hand a cue is not associated with the action until your dog has learned the behavior. For instance, when teaching our dog touch we stick our two fingers out in front of our dogs nose. If our dog touches our two fingers with his nose then we click/treat. After he’s consistently touching his nose to our two fingers (the rule of thumb in our class is 8-10x in a minute) then we introduce the cue “touch” when our dogs are touching our finger.

      In the end whether you call the word a cue or a command the word means the same thing: “Sit” means put your butt to the ground and “Touch” means put your nose on my two fingers.

  5. I don’t know, but there have been a few times where I used “command” in the title of a post and then received my fair share of messages from people saying “do you really want to give your dog “commands?” And then the comments went off on a tangent unrelated to the post meant to encourage training and building a solid relationship with your pup. Sigh… People try to be way to politely correct.

    But I do think “cue” is a better word and a better way to look at training. I just think people are overly sensitive.

    1. Agreed on the overly sensitive people. As I mentioned earlier I think whichever word makes you comfortable is the word to use.

  6. Oooooo-watch out people, long one coming here. I’m not a dog trainer, but it’s a hobby of mine and my dogs are very well trained compared to your usual house pet. We were never allowed to have a dog growing up and the very first thing I did when I moved out was get one. I know, dumb, dumb, dumb – I could barely take care of myself, let alone a dog. I didn’t have a clue on how to train a dog or even that you couldn’t just let your dog out to roam around the neighborhood in the morning. Let’s just say the whole experience was a major disaster and she ended up getting hit by a car.. So I waited a few years for the next one. A rescue WEIMARANER! I took him to obedience classes and read obsessively about dog training. Back then it was choke chains and barking commands like a drill sergeant; that was the method. Every time I got a new dog after the old one had passed on I would take a puppy class and maybe a basic obedience. Years passed, choke chains were out, positive reinforcement was in. I actually went to a class where they wanted you to hold hot dogs in your mouth to teach the watch me command for heeling. I drank the alpha dog kool-aid, with rolling them on their backs to put them in their place. I always thought clicker training was too unnatural and never tried it. Now days, I’m just fine with training my dogs myself, I use a combination of what Colby is calling cues, also constant and consistent exercise in which a dog learns a number of behaviors just because you’re together so much, (they learn to read your body language like crazy), my current dog is very food motivated so a treat will often work miracles. She actually knows a command I taught her (using treats as a reward) called “on your left”. It means come over to me immediately and I taught it in the vain hope that some day some bicyclist would actually say “on your left” (or give you any sort of warning) before they came whizzing by at 30 miles an hour. It didn’t work the way I thought it would, no biker has EVER said that to us, but she got what it meant and since her senses are so much better than mine, she can hear them coming a mile away and zooms over to me for a treat before I even know what’s going on. I use lots of teaching a simple behavior that can be built up into more complex command, sort of like they do with dogs on live stage plays. I have also learned that the earlier a puppy learns basic commands like sit, down and stay the more it becomes ingrained and they will fly through that part of their training. So definitely, cue those 8 week pups to sit! It takes years to teach your dog to be the kind of dog you enjoy living with, it’s a constant process. Until one day they cross over the rainbow bridge. Then comes the new puppy who is clueless and you realize just how much your old buddy had absorbed over the years and as you pick up that chewed up shoe you kind of laugh and cry all at the same time.

  7. I have used a combination of clicker and command with our latest puppy (Holly the working Cocker Spaniel) and it has worked a treat – the use of the Acme whistle is also invaluable!

    1. I’ve never tried or heard of using an Acme whistle. I’ll have to look into that before getting our next puppy. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Very interesting! I never even thought about the difference between the two words…actually I thought they were the same. Thanks for the clarification!

    1. At our Wags And Wiggles classes I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of the trainers say the word “command”. I’m thinking about using the word in class to see if they respond to it by correcting my word choice.

  9. What an interesting take on the command vs. cue words. Cue does seem to fit better, especially with clicker training and it does have a more pleasant sound to it.

    I’ve always used the word command because it’s what’s been used in dog training for a long time, but perhaps a change is in order with positive reinforcement training. Hmm…I may have to go back and rewrite some articles, lol!

    1. I always used the word command as well, but along with the shift towards positive reinforcement training seems to be a shift in some terminology. I think it’s important to understand both, but use what makes you comfortable.

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