A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how important the words we use to describe our dogs and their behavior are in this post. As a follow up to that, today I’m talking about the words we using during training. Sometimes it can be confusing for owners because the cues I use and what I want those cues to mean behavior-wise are different than what the owner thinks. Of course, to the dog, it doesn’t much matter – they don’t speak our language and it’s all gibberish to them until we pair a verbal cue with a behavior. But the actual words to the dog don’t mean anything on their own.
But with clients, there can be a disconnect. We’re not all speaking the same language. Terms are conflated or there’s a misunderstanding of the subtle, yet possibly important differences. The most common ones I encounter being mixed up are these:
- Stay and Wait
- Leave it and Drop it
- Down and Off
So, why does this matter? Isn’t it all semantics? Well, sort of. It doesn’t matter to the dog, as long as you’re consistent in your training but having clarity in language helps the humans communicate and in turn, keep consistency with the dog. If one person in the family thinks down means “to get off” like when a dog is jumping up but others use off in that situation and reserve down for laying down, it creates inconsistency with the dog. So what do I mean when I say these words?
Stay: “don’t move” or “hold this position” until i return to you. It’s used for mat work or emergencies if you need your dog to freeze (like he crosses a street and shouldn’t cross back to you) versus Wait: a temporary pause, used when asking a dog to stop at a doorway, crosswalk, not jump out of a car or other temporary hold until given a release cue like “OK”
Leave it: used before the dog picks something up or if being used for reactivity, when the dog notices the thing you want him to ignore or for resource guarding, if properly trained versus Drop it: used after the dog already has something in his mouth that you would like him to spit out. can be used during tug/fetch to release the toy or for resource guarding, if properly trained.
Down: This is a verbal cue for the dog to move his body into a certain position – to lie down – all four feet and belly on the floor (and then get rewarded for it!) versus Off: used to ask your dog to get off something, like a piece of furniture, a person or a counter.
It can help others humans as you describe your dog’s behavior or talk about what you’d like your dog to do, if we have consistency in our words.
If you are struggling with any behavior issues, please reach out for help. See all of my service offerings here.