A cue is "a signal to a performer to begin a specific speech or action." Most often, with dogs, we think about cues as spoken words: "Sit." "Down." "Grab me a coffee" (we're still working on that one). Cues can also be visual, like hand signals. Those can be especially valuable across long distances or in noisy environments.

Cues can also be environmental. For example, you walking over to the door before a walk could become the cue for your dog to sit for the leash. Or you pouring their food could become a cue for your puppy to sit before eating. Think of it as an evolution of "Say Please."

Don't be in a rush to label things with verbal commands or hand signals until you're positive your pup has learned the behavior. Remember that associating the cue to the behavior is another link in the chain for your pup.

So, as a rule of thumb:

  1. Learn the behavior in a quiet, low-distraction setting until your puppy has mastered it.
  2. Add the cue(s) that you'll want to use and make sure that it's precisely that cue which is prompting the behavior you want.
  3. Generalize the behavior by doing it at different times, from different positions, in different locations, over different durations, and in the presence of different distractions.