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

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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
Command vs Cue

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

  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

  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.

Related Article:

Command vs Cue
Command vs Cue

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  1. Here’s how I see the difference: I take my cues from someone I admire and am therefore inspired to do my best. When I am commanded to do something, I will do so but only in that specific context as much as required, grudgingly and no more. My older dog was trained to leave food alone on the counter by being scolded when he violated his command… now he waits until our backs are turned and sneaks it. Our younger dog who is trained based on the newer approach, won’t go near it. He has “leave it” engrained in a way that is broader based and more effective even when we aren’t looking. My understanding is this is true for outdoor distractions like chasing wildlife etc. Our newest addition is being 100% cue/clicker trained for eventual service work. He is still very young but his training is coming along brilliantly.

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