5 Basic Cues for Dogs (and Cats)

Recall/responding to his name. Whiplash turns are a fun game with an educational twist. While your pet is engaged in something else, get close to him and say his name once. The second you see his body make any slight movement toward you (even if he doesn’t actually turn to you), click and reward. Will need HIGH value treats to start off this game. The idea is that he will respond so quickly his head will whip around at the sound of his name. If you don’t have a clicker, say “Yes” to mark the moment he turns to you. If working with a dog, add running away so the dog must chase you for his reward.

Nose Target: Nose targeting is an excellent foundation behavior that can guide the animal into new positions, allowing you to train new behaviors. This helps you move your dog and cat around in space and give them something else to focus on besides each other. This is also great for dogs who don’t like to be pet by strangers (but not scared of them); it gives them a way to interact with someone and get rewards.

Go to place: Teach the pet to go to a spot of your choosing and stay there. This gives each animal his or her own space.

Voluntary Eye Contact: The Attention Game builds on whiplash turns to increase the time/duration the pet holds his or her attention on you.

Leave it: The key to Leave It is to give him something else to do instead of going after an item/cat/dog, and this video shows you how to reward his attention on you as part of the Leave it cue.

  1. Level 1 (treat is stationary): Place treat in your hand or under your shoe. Watch carefully for the moment the pet offers any behavior other than trying to get the treat. Immediately give him the treat, saying “Take it” (remember, the treat move towards the pet, not the other way around!). Take it up a notch: drop the treat on the ground from various heights, toss the treats to various distances, change value of treat.
  2. Level 2 (pet is moving): moving around with the pet, cue Leave it, and then put a treat down. Watch carefully for the moment the pet offers any behavior other than trying to get the treat, and reward as above. Take it up a notch: toss treats from various heights and distances, change value of object.
  3. Level 3 (pet finds treat/object): This scenario approximates real life. Place treat/object in a space, and bring the pet in from another space. Watch carefully for the moment the pet offers any behavior other than trying to get the treat, and reward as above. Take it up a notch: walk by the treat/object, change value of the object, etc.

You can also teach your animals to give you items they shouldn’t have.

What other basics should I do with my dog and cat?

Food puzzles are a good way to provide solid mental stimulation, in addition to other simple enrichment ideas.

Establish routine and boundaries with some consistent house rules.