Verbal Cues (a.k.a Commands)

  • Verbal cues or simply cues are the words we choose to associate to behaviors that we have taught our dog. Examples of cues are “Sit”, “Down”, “Come”, etc.

Don’t Use Cues Until the Behavior is Performed Well

  • With few exceptions, associating cues (a.k.a commands) to behaviors is the last step in the training process.
  • Make sure your dog is performing the behavior you are training for very well before you associate and put the behavior on cue.

Avoid repeating cues

  • Avoid repeating cues over and over without producing the desired behavior. If your dog is not performing a behavior on your verbal cue, DO NOT REPEAT THE CUE hoping to produce the desired behavior.
  • Your dog’s failure to perform the behavior immediately on cue may mean:
    • He has not yet learned exactly what behavior you want from him, and that you’ve introduced and attempted to associate the cue with the behavior too early. In this case, go back to simply teaching the behavior WITHOUT using the verbal cue.
    • OR it may mean your dog is distracted or stressed and cannot respond to your cues under certain conditions. In this case, it is even more futile to repeat the cue over and over. More on this later.

Attention Exercise Assesses Your Dog’s Readiness for Training

  • Always begin with the Attention Exercise to assess if your dog is prepared to work on more complex training exercises. If your dog is unable to pay attention in any given environment, then it means you have to work on acclimation before you can proceed.


  1. Start with 5 repetitions of the Attention Exercise – Part 1.
  2. After the 5th rep, right AFTER your dog has collected his treat and BEFORE he looks up at you to offer eye contact, speak your dog’s name.
  3. Mark or say “YES” the moment your dog gives you eye contact then immediately deliver a treat to your dog’s mouth. This counts as 1 repetition of the exercise. Or you may also drop the treat somewhere on the floor where your dog can see and get it.
  4. Repeat this up to 10 times in a session.


Adding the cue too soon

  • A common error is that a handler will immediately begin using the verbal cue, expecting that the dog will perform the behavior instantly in response to hearing the verbal cue.
  • DO NOT introduce the verbal cue until your dog demonstrates mastery of the new behavior you have been teaching him.
  • With few exceptions, associating a verbal cue to a trained behavior is always the last step in the training process.


What if I speak my dog’s name and he doesn’t offer eye contact?

  • If you have begun adding the cue and it happens that your dog does not look up at you – possibly because he got distracted – AVOID REPEATING YOUR DOG’S NAME.
  • Instead, just wait a moment and see if your dog eventually offers eye contact. If after a few seconds, your dog still doesn’t look at you, follow up with a prompting noise to get your dog’s attention.
  • Remember: Avoid repeating cues over and over without producing the desired behavior.
  • If your dog is not performing the behavior on cue, it means you need to go back a few steps to teaching the behavior WITHOUT the cue.

Do you have other questions or problems with this exercise? Email Doc Marose for some advice.


You may proceed if your dog is performing the Attention Exercise on cue very well.

Attention in outdoor or higher distraction environments:

Remember to practice this exercise in a variety of locations and under various degrees of distraction.