Luring, Part 3: Adding a Verbal Cue

This post was contributed by my associate, Paul.  Interested in training with Paul? Contact us!

Why add a verbal cue?

When your dog reliably responds to a hand signal with no food in sight, it’s time to add a verbal cue. Verbal cues are useful for lots of reasons. One reason to teach verbal cues is that they can be heard from far away.  Another is that verbal cues can be used when the dog doesn’t have a direct line of sight to you.

How to add a verbal cue

First, warm up with three or four repetitions of your usual routine (giving your dog the hand signal with an empty hand, and then praising and treating just after your dog’s bottom touches the ground). Next, follow these steps to add a verbal cue:

  1. Say “sit” (or whatever cue you prefer).
  2. Pause half a second.
  3. Give your hand signal.
  4. Praise and treat just after your dog’s bottom touches the ground.
  5. Repeat, gradually pausing a little longer after the verbal cue before giving the hand signal.
  6. In time, your dog will begin to sit after the verbal cue, instead of waiting for the hand signal.

Be sure to give the new verbal cue before the old hand signal! It’s easy to forget and give the hand signal first out of habit. Also, be sure to pause for half a second between the verbal cue and the hand signal. Waiting that little bit will give your dog time to process the new information.

Once your dog is sitting before you give the hand signal, you can start using the verbal cue on its own.  Be prepared to go back to the hand signal if needed, though!  Sometimes dogs get a little confused and need extra help. This is especially true when working in a new place or an exciting situation.

Adjusting the hand signal

if you want to use both hand signals and verbal cues, you may want to adjust your hand signal so that it feels more natural and less exaggerated. For example, you can keep your hand signal closer to your body (and farther from your dog), or make the hand movement smaller.  To adjust your hand signal, follow these simple steps:

  1. Warm up a few times using your hand signal as the cue.
  2. Cue your dog again, this time changing your hand signal a tiny bit.
    • Your movement should still look very similar to your original motion.
    • Think in terms of tiny changes (like an inch closer to you than before).
    • If your dog does not sit, go back to your original hand signal and adjust in smaller increments the next time.
  3. Complete at least five successful repetitions with the adjusted gesture, and then take a break.
  4. Over the course of multiple training sessions, continue to change your hand signal in small increments until it looks like you want.

Luring redux

Luring is a gentle, easy, and effective way to teach your dog new behaviors. Moving from using food as a guide, to using food as a reward, and then adding a verbal cue, are important steps that complete the transition from your dog simply following food to your dog performing a behavior on cue even when there is no food around.  These additional steps can take a little time, but it’s worth it for the long-term benefits.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on luring.  Missed one of the earlier articles? Click here to read Part One and Part Two!

As mentioned earlier, this post was written by my associate, Paul. Contact us to set up a training session with him!


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