Successful Dog Training: It’s Not What You Say…

Coming up with a short list of specific words that will represent the commands you give your dog is imperative when starting out training. If one member of the household is saying “sit” and the other is saying “down,” it can become awfully confusing for your non-English speaking companion. Using clear, easy to distinguish words consistently will create the best opportunity for your dog to start learning the tasks at hand. There is one, glaring factor that is very often over looked when training is first starting: non-verbal cues.

A family member of ours recently added a four-legged family member to their clan. We love when this happens not only because it is another dog in a loving home, but because it snaps our brains into training mode. So often we fall into a routine and forget the amount of work that we have put into our training. It is great motivation to check-in with our own pup and make sure that she is getting the attention that she deserves.


When speaking with the new pawrents, we came to realize that there was much more to commands than the word. In fact, the vast majority of our commands have some form of a non-verbal cue associated with it, and none of them were intended. When you are in the initial phase of puppy training you are usually overwhelmed and overstimulated. There are only so many things that you can do at once so you pick the broad best strokes and do the best that you can.

But as you progress, you should take a step back and critique your progress. Identify what commands are making progress and what commands are stalling. When you identify what is working, start paying attention to the non-verbal cues that you have associated with these words.


For example, when we tell Maddie to sit, we almost always snap our fingers. It was not until we were training for an extended period of time that we even realized that we were doing this. However, we got to the point that we did not and do not even have to say the command any more. We simply snap our fingers twice down by Maddie’s nose and she immediately parks it.

This is a clear illustration of a very important fundamental understanding of dogs. Even though they may not always understand you or listen to your verbal cues, dogs are constantly paying attention to what you are doing and your body language. This is why dogs have evolved right next to us for the last ten-thousand plus years. They have an inherent ability to read our body language and pay attention to tiny details that even we overlook.


This is why trainers like Cesar Milan always preach about being calm and confident along with carrying yourself with proper posture. Your dogs read that much better than they can understand the verbal cues you are throwing at them. It is also why dogs are the number one service and emotional support animal. They not only perform tasks that benefit humans, they are able to read and interpret humans so well that they can do things that humans cannot do, such as identify low blood sugar or warn of a pending seizure.

No matter how long you have had your dog, start making a conscious effort to pay attention to your non-verbal cues. It can be what helps your new puppy learn quickly, teaches your old dog new tricks, or takes your service animal to the next level. Take inventory on your commands and note any non-verbal cues that are already in place. Additionally, look at your commands that your pup is struggling with and notice if you could add or change non-verbal indicators in order to help her succeed.

Read Next: What’s the Best Way to Communicate with My Dog?

What non-verbal cues do you favor? We want to know! Leave a comment below!

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